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text 2016-01-03 08:06
Bout of Books reading list!

Here it is the list of books I'm planning on reading between 4 Jan - 10/4 in the read-a thon. I'm thinking of mostly reading ARC's and blog tour books since this is a nice opportunity to read as much as possible and then be able to read my own books.


Of course, I may end of reading some book outside of the list, I have some library books just lying and waiting for me to be read, not to mention all my own. 


Moonlight over Paris: A Novel - Jennifer Robson  The Lightkeepers: A Novel - Abby Geni  River Road - Carol Goodman  Platinum Doll - Anne Girard  Missing Pieces - Heather Gudenkauf  Girl Through Glass: A Novel - Sari Wilson  The Evening Spider: A Novel - Emily Arsenault  Loving Eleanor - Susan Wittig Albert  First Touch - Laurelin Page  Jane and the Waterloo Map (Being a Jane Austen Mystery) - Stephanie Barron  Try Not to Breathe: A Novel - Holly Seddon  The Shadow Hour - Kate Riordan  



 The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 15 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

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review 2015-06-22 00:54
Easily a favorite read of 2015!
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry

I am completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the prospect of writing a review for this book.  It's probably fair to call it a modern classic and it's been reviewed many times by much smarter and more perceptive people than I.  What can I possibly add to the conversation that hasn't already been said about this book?  Undoubtedly nothing but I have thoughts and feelings that must be expressed so I'm ignoring wisdom and putting them out there regardless. Second problem is that with a book this good, nothing I say is even remotely adequate.  Hopefully my dithering is enough to convince you of this book's all around awesomeness. It will easily be on my top ten reads of the year list if not of all time.


I come to this book already a big fan of westerns and that predisposed me to love it but I'm not sure you need to have an inclination towards fiction set in the American frontier.  Lonesome Dove is really about people.  People who've had a very different life than I've had but who still managed to seem familiar.  Many of them are extraordinary though most of them are just incredibly ordinary.  The book is told from many different perspectives and their voices are all completely alive.  If you like inhabiting other people's skin, this book will be a satisfying and overwhelming buffet.


The plot is as winding as a cattle trail, which is mostly it's purpose. The overarching narrative is about the small Hat Creek Cattle Company nestled in the dry desert of south Texas deciding to be the first outfit to move cattle into Montana and establish a ranch there.  The Hat Creek company is owned and operated by two rather famous but retired Texas Rangers, Captain Woodrow Call and Captain Augustus McCrae, less formerly know as Call and Gus. 

The cattle drive is the main river of the narrative but it has several streams, the most substantial of which is the somewhat inept but earnest exploits of Sheriff July Johnson whose storyline intersects with Gus and Call's a few times.  It felt like McMurtry had this loose central line of a plot which he kept in mind but didn't tie himself to, allowing his writing to flow wherever it took him. While everything does flow there are times when the tributary you are floating in is quite small indeed.  We spend a a number of pages in the head of July's erstwhile wife before that line abruptly peters out. There are a couple of main perspective characters but we get inside almost all of the characters at least for brief periods.  This writing style would normally drive me crazy.  I tend to gravitate towards and most appreciate books (and series) that have been intricately planned out and cleverly plotted but with Lonesome Dove I was so entranced by every single thing and person that appeared that I wanted it to keep going forever.  No matter where McMurtry took me, it was exactly where I wanted to be and I found the book to be a compulsive listening experience.  I wanted it to be longer than it's 945 pages.


I think a key thing to know about the book is how funny it is.  The tone is so incredibly perfect; it's this balance between humor and tragedy, hope and philosophy, dysfunctionality and wisdom that it seems to capture the very essence of the human experience.  I know this probably sounds pretentious but the point is that the book is not at all pretentious.  It's warm and down to earth.  This book made me frequently laugh out loud or grin like a fool, often in public.  It also brought tears and sadder emotions but the brutality that was a very real part of life in that place and time was always kept in check by the ridiculous and the heroic.  Since I'm afraid I've made it sound all rambly and existential, I also need to point out that it's not that at all.  It's chock full of all the things people look for in a great story; adventure, gunfights, beautiful settings, suspense and romance.


The muse or choirmaster of the book, in my mind is Gus McCrae.  Gus very quickly and firmly became one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.  I don't want to describe him because I will not be able to do him justice but almost every single one of the sentences from this book that are worthy of taking special note of, and there are lots of them are either said by or about Gus.  He's got a wry and wicked sense of humor which has enabled him to experience many terrible things in his life and come out the other side at peace.


“If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.” - Gus McCrae

He's utterly unique and I adored him more with each page.  I could have read a 1000 pages more of him extemporaneously speaking.  His relationship with the taciturn and workaholic Call is also one of the more delightful and fantastic things in the book. It also has to be said that while Gus was certainly my favorite character, the book is loaded with fascinating people all of whom were worthwhile spending time with.


FINAL VERDICT: If you enjoy humor, character-driven fiction and compelling storytelling than you owe it to yourself to read this book as soon as you possibly can.  I can't imagine another book that could unseat this one as my favorite read of 2015.

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review 2014-12-29 23:31
Are Australian YA Authors the Most Imaginative? I Vote Yes!
Sabriel - Garth Nix

Original Publication Year: 1995

Genre(s): YA, Fantasy

Series: Abhorsen #1

Awards: Aurealis Award for Fantasy Novel and Young Adult Novel

Format: Audio and in print

Narrated by: Tim Curry


I’ve decided, based with an n=2*, that the most imaginative writers of young adult fiction are Australian.  They certainly make me the happiest and I love the way they see the world.   With Sabriel, Garth Nix has created a beautiful and vivid fictional world and placed within it a fast paced and exciting adventure story.  It is lovely and charming, and scary and suspenseful and romantic and pretty much everything you want in YA Fantasy.


Sabriel Abhorsen is 18 and just finishing up her schooling in Ancelstierre when a messenger comes from her father bearing his sword and bandolier of bells.  As we learn very quickly, Sabriel is a powerful though inexperienced magician and necromancer who was born under unusual circumstances in The Old Kingdom.  Her father is also a powerful necromancer and in order to protect her he sent her away to the less dangerous (and less magical) Ancelstierre when she was five to attend school.  Unfortunately he now appears to be in very serious trouble and Sabriel sets off to find and help him despite her inexperience and woeful lack of knowledge of The Old Kingdom.  Her quest will see her chased by all manner of dead things, rescuing a prince who has been turned to wood, and sparring with a cantankerous cat who is really a magical and possibly dangerous creature that has been bound in Cat form. 


The world that is created is complex, imaginative and easily pictured.  Ancelstierre is reminiscent of Georgian era England while the Old Kingdom seems more Rennaissance.  The two countries are separated by a wall and while there is some leakage around the edges, Ancelstierre is a country of science and technology while the Old Kingdom is governed by magic.  The Old Kingdom has also been falling into anarchy for 200 years and the denizens of Death have started to take over more and more of the kingdom.  As Sabriel learns, Abhorsen is an official title for a necromancer who serves as one of the protectors of the Old Kingdom and she is the heir apparent with her father missing.  The Abhorsen is meant to keep the world from being overrun by creatures escaping Death.  The Abhorsen keeps the dead at bay, by using a series of bells all with different properties.  It is seriously cool and very well used in the story.


The characters were also pretty great and believable.  Sabriel is very recognizable as an exceptionally brave, but bewildered teen who recognizes her weaknesses but doesn’t lack confidence.  In fact she can be a little overconfident as teenagers are prone to be at times. She’s a good strong female character and her relationship with her father is pretty heartbreaking.   Mogget serves as her sidekick/mentor for much of the story and has a personality suitable for a talking cat and also presents many mysteries.  If I have any complaints, it is that most of the rest of the characters - Touchstone, Kerrigor–don’t get developed as much as I would’ve liked, mostly because the book covers a lot of ground and moves quickly.  It’s not until you sit down to write about the characters that you realize that Touchstone is good and likeable but a tad generic and Kerrigor is a little one dimensional. 


There is a little romance as well which is nice. It’s a little abrupt but I appreciated that the narrative wasn’t overly focused on it and there was very little angst.   


I listened to the first half of the book narrated by Tim Curry and he was as amazing as you would imagine.  He also had the perfect voice and tone for this type of story.  I was really bummed when I had to return the audio book to the library because it was requested.


 I have in the past read and really enjoyed Garth Nix’s short fiction and his middle-grade series The Keys to the Kingdom so the Abhorsen series has been pretty prominent on my TBR for a while.  I am so glad I finally started it and that it did not disappoint in any way! 


Final Verdict:  A fast paced YA adventure story with unique and imaginative world building.  I think it’s safe to say Garth Nix has a distinctive style and I am definitely a fan. 


*The second Australian young adult author I encountered this year was D.M. Cornish and his Monster Blood Tattoo series was super imaginative and a favorite.

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review 2014-12-27 03:05
A Page-turner of a Gothic Mystery
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins,Matthew Sweet

Original Publication Year: 1860

Genre(s): Fiction, Gothic Mystery

Series: NA

Awards: None

Format: Audio

Narrated by: Ian Holm


There are two sisters (half-sisters really), one is beautiful, sweet and rich and the other is ugly, smart and poor.  They are devoted to each other and they are mostly on their own in the world since their uncle/guardian is quite useless and self-absorbed.  Enter a handsome young drawing master, hired to instruct the young ladies.  Inevitably, the young drawing master (Walter Hartwright) falls in love with the pretty, sweet sister (Laura Fairlie) and she with him but alas, they are of different social classes and she is already engaged to the dashing older Sir Perceval Glyde.  Unfortunately, while Sir Glyde is doting and charming, a strange letter arrives that hints at hidden and unpleasant depths to his character which produces foreboding amongst all who care for Miss Fairlie.  Oh, the foreboding. 


Throw in a mysterious and somewhat mentally unstable doppelganger for Miss Fairlie who always wears white and you have the beginnings of a dramatic and rollicking tale.  I was not expecting this book to be such a page turner but it had pretty constant drama and action.  There are several mysteries that drive the plot forward at a cracking pace.  It definitely doesn’t feel like a 672 page book except when I reflect on all that happens it is not surprising it is on the longer side.  The narrative moves around through several different perspectives with Walter Hartwright’s being the primary one but also contributing are Marian, the Fairlie’s solicitor, and the young ladies’ invalid uncle.


Collins’ characters are also pretty amazing. The invalid uncle is a indulgent, narcissistic hypochondriac to beat all others.  My favorite characters were undoubtedly Marian Holcombe (the ugly, smart sister) and I somewhat more controversially love Count Fosco (not least of which because he is the only man in the story to have the good sense to fall head over heels in love with Marian). More on Marian later but Fosco is a larger than life character; an intelligent and charismatic villain.  He is much more menacing then Percival Glyde and some of his monologues are epic.  


Another thing I wasn’t expecting to see strongly messaged throughout the book was some pretty serious mid-nineteenth century feminism.  There seem to be a lot of messages here about the inequality between men and women in society and marriage.  Count Fosco even states in his ultimate letter confessing his dastardly deeds…


“What is the secret of Madame Fosco’s unhesitating devotion of herself to the fulfillment of my boldest wishes, to the furtherance of my deepest plans? I might answer this by simply referring to my own character, and by asking, in my turn, Where, in the history of the world, has a man of my order ever been found without a woman in the background self-immolated on the altar of his life? But I remember that I am writing in England, I remember that I was married in England, and I ask if a woman’s marriage obligations in this country provide for her private opinion of her husband’s principles? No! They charge her unreservedly to love, honour, and obey him. That is exactly what my wife has done. I stand here on a supreme moral elevation, and I loftily assert her accurate performance of her conjugal duties. Silence, Calumny! Your sympathy, Wives of England, for Madame Fosco!”


And then there is Marian who continually says things implying the weakness of women but then proving in her actions and her intellect that she is the equal if not the superior of most men.  And she also has some things to say about marriage:


“No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace - they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship - they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel. And what does the best of them give us in return?”


I vividly felt, as Marian and Laura’s position in Sir Glyde’s household became clear, the fear and helplessness they must experience as women of that era.  Powerless and at the mercy of the men in their lives. 


As a cherry on top, Ian Holm’s narration of the book was perfect in every way.  He expertly captured the different voices as well as the exaggerated drama and foreboding that I think firmly makes this a Gothic novel. 


It missed getting five stars because sometimes the manipulation of the reader was a little too blatant.  I’m not sure this was a fault of the author but is probably just a characteristic of Gothic literature but I sometimes was imagining a tiny orchestra in my head going “Dun, dun DUN!”  Also, I have to say I was a little put out that Marian’s prescribed life and path is as her sister’s companion and doting Aunty to Laura and Walter’s children.  She says this is what she wants and we must take her at her word but I don’t quite believe it.  For all the feminism run rampant in the novel, of COURSE Walter chooses the pretty, sweet one over the super duper awesome smart but ugly one.  She has to settle for Fosco’s admiration.


And finally the BIG question!! Collins or Dickens? I feel like I’ve heard a few people of late claim that Dickens has wrongly been exalted as grand English literature while Collins has wallowed in the background.  They claim that Collins is in fact the better writer.  I have to say The Woman in White was a pretty serious page turner of a book and while I love many of Dickens’ books, I wouldn’t say they are always page turners.  However, they do feel a bit more substantive, perhaps.  I see why the two writers would be compared – writing at the same time and they each employ satire, especially in the form of some of their characters, to poke fun at institutions and certain types of people they despise.  However, I don’t know that it’s fair to compare them.  Dickens to me has more of a distinctive style but maybe that’s just because I have read way more of his books?  Regardless, the jury is still out as far as I am concerned and may forever be out.  Where do you come down on the matter?


Final Verdict:  A page turner of a mystery with an interesting cast of characters and suitably Gothic storytelling.  4 out of 5 Stars!   ✪✪✪✪



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review 2014-11-28 03:39
Atonement - Ian McEwan

Format: Hard Copy

Narrated By: NA

Original Publication Year: 2001

Genre(s): Literary Fiction

Series: NA

Awards: A few including the National Book Critics Circle and the L.A. Times Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker


I’ve wanted to read a book by Ian McEwen for many years because he seems to be a literary writer that is almost universally admired and enjoyed. But I approach literary fiction with some level of caution. Sometimes I feel like it is incredibly readable and it just blows me away but sometimes I feel a bit like Gavin of The Readers podcast that it's 300 odd pages spelling out a story about a guy walking to the shop. It’s just a sketchy label for a book - what does it even mean? So I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with Atonement but I was hopeful and my hope was fulfilled many times over. This was a spectacular read.


The book revolves around a crime committed on an English estate in 1934. The crime is compounded and made all the more tragic because of the faulty testimony of a 13 year old girl Briony Tallis. The repercussions of these events ripple out through the years and into World War II and beyond.


There is so much to talk about with this book. First, I have to say that while I never found myself yearning to get back to it, once I did pick it up I had a hard time stopping. I found it completely absorbing and mesmerizing and could have read it in one sitting if I’d had the time to devote. There is an almost constant sense of suspense and tension.


Second, there is both so much and so little going on in this book. The first third to half covers just about one day in the life of the Tallis family. The reader floats among the different characters; Cecilia, Briony, Robbie, Emily; getting different perspectives on the events and most interestingly on each of the characters. It is all building up to something, the foreboding clear in the writing, and when it crashes it is utterly devastating. Then we’re in World War II and Robbie is crossing France to get to Dunkirk. Briony has grown up and realizing the damage she has wrought, she is attempting to atone by not taking the privileges given to her and instead signing up as a nurse. The last half of the book is spent in Robbie and then Briony’s head and the grand events unfolding are seen through their eyes. In the end McEwen provides a wallop that will break your heart and leave you wondering.


Finally there are all the questions. I felt like McEwen captured perfectly the attitude and brain space of a 13 year old girl. Still a child with little experience and mostly a child’s perceptions but utterly convinced that she has an adult’s judgment. I wanted to throttle her as she completely misread almost every situation with an incredibly tragic result. But she is a child and what is the culpability of the adults surrounding her? Why are they so easily able to turn against a childhood friend, someone they know well and who is practically family? How can they believe such things of him? And for that matter why is life so very unfair? I found it impossible not to feel compassion for Briony and felt she was just as much a victim as the others. I think it is a book that would be very interesting to discuss with others.


It probably goes without saying, considering McEwen’s stature as a writer, but the writing at the sentence and word level is also breathtaking. The structure of the book is unique - it is not a straight through narrative and it's not even what the reader thinks it is. The book's full payoff and meaning comes in the last few pages.


Final Verdict: I believe I will likely be joining the ranks of readers who think Ian McEwen can do little wrong. Atonement was incredibly readable and while a lot of time is spent in people’s heads thinking their thoughts, it was never boring or too noodly. It provided hours of mesmerized reading and lots of thoughtful contemplation. 4.5 stars out of 5.


I also very much liked the movie of the book and enjoyed picturing James McAvoy as Robbie.  Any other McEwen fans out there?  What do you think is his best book?

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