I want to take a few minutes to write about a few authors I’m currently in love with. I read a lot, and I go through periods where I read some authors or genres more than others.
There are some authors that I gravitate towards again and again. Here are a few I recommend:
The first book I read by her was Alice. It’s part of a series she’s written titled the Chronicles of Alice. It’s a retelling of the Alice in Wonderland story, but it’s unlike any other version that I’ve read. It’s dark and gritty. The magic in Henry’s Alice stories taints and warps those who use it. If you like stories set in wonderland, you’ll enjoy her stories. (They’re not for children). To my knowledge, there is one more book and a collection of short stories set in Henry’s version of wonderland.
I’ve read other books by Henry, and I’ve never been disappointed. I also highly recommend The Ghost Tree. Henry’s stories tend to retell stories we’re familiar with, but in macabre versions with dark, twisted magic.
She’s been writing for a while, and I haven’t read everything she’s written. However, if you haven’t read Uprooted or Spinning Silver, you should. Her fantasy stories are beautiful.
Spinning Silver is a book I recommend to everyone.
I can’t say enough about how much I love Fforde. His Thursday Next series is one of my favorite series of all time. He also wrote the Nursery Crime stories. His books are funny, satirical, and unbelievably clever.
He writes a lot of other books too. If you haven’t read anything by him, I would start with the Thursday Next books. Other books by Fforde that I recommend are Early Riser, The Constant Rabbit, and Shades of Grey. (Despite the title of Shades of Grey, it is not like 50 Shades. It’s a dystopic novel.)
These few words don’t really do these authors justice. I love them all (and many others) but seriously, you will not be disappointed by these three.
I’m going to do something that I don’t do very often… review a book. I personally am not a fan of book reviews. They are either rave reviews or really hateful. You rarely find anything in between. So, as a reader and writer, I kind of ignore them. Additionally, I pretty much like something about every book I read. I rarely read something and want to give it less than three stars.
However, I’m going to review a book I recently finished. If you plan on reading A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer, don’t read any further; there will be spoilers.
The reason I want to review this book is because I’m hoping someone can help me find some clarity after reading it. I honestly don’t know (even though I read all 600+ pages of it) whether or not I like it or not. I find it odd that after reading that many pages I can’t decide. Parts of the book confuse me.
Because I’m not sure about my feelings for this particular tome, I’m going to ask a series of questions about the book and then proceed to immediately answer them.
Question 1: Why is this book in the YA lit section?
I read a fair amount of YA lit and I just don’t think this belongs there. I think that perhaps the publishers felt that because the main characters are teens, it should be YA lit. I can also see that it has an Alice in Wonderland meets Chronicles of Narnia on speed vibe, but that’s not enough for it to be in the YA lit section. I really believe that most YA readers would start this book and then not finish it because of the style (more about that later).
I say that it has vibes from other stories, and by that I mean that it is a story about parallel worlds and in those worlds animals talk. There is also a series of magical doors involved. That, however, is where the comparison ends.
If I were asked to categorize this book, I would put it with “Weird Tales.” I love weird tales btw. It’s one of my favorite type of stories to read.
Someone asked me what is a weird tale? My answer: you know it when you read it.
That’s how I felt when I read this book. It belongs with adult lit, and with the weird tales, wherever they are.
Question 2: Was he drinking?
I’m being completely serious. The reason I ask this is because almost all of the conversations between characters in this book are impossible to follow. It reminds me of being in a room with drunk people and you’re the only one sober. There are 10 conversations going on and no one is having the same one, but they are all talking to each other anyway.
At first I thought maybe the author was trying to be silly, but it continues throughout the whole book (did I mention it’s 600+ pages)?
The stilted conversations are not the only style choice that I struggled with. There were what felt like an unnecessary amount of puns and play on words. I’m not sure what the point of most of them were. All the double meanings and trick word play and weird conversations made whole sections of the novel very hard to follow.
I think most of what I find odd about this style is simply a choice the author made. Perhaps it makes more sense if you drink while you read it? (Again, should not be in the YA lit section if it requires alcohol to understand).
Question 3: Why are there so many characters?
This is not the first author to include an astronomical number of characters (anyone heard of Charles Dickens), but some of the characters didn’t even appear until page 500 or so. Additionally, because the author likes puns, some of the characters have nick names given to them by other characters.
And then what felt like randomly a character we hadn’t heard from in 100+ pages would show up again. IDK but sometimes I felt like I was falling into a rabbit hole. And other times I started to wonder if maybe there were pages from a different book accidentally printed with mine…
Further investigation is needed. I have added another VanderMeer book to my TBR list because I am curious if this is his style or if this was something new for him. I am going to figure this out.
Plus, despite the length of this book, the story isn’t finished and if the next part is published, I will be reading it. I have to know where all this nonsense was going.
Ultimately, I did find the plot engaging. It’s about parallel worlds, and big baddies versus inept teenagers. There are also lots of spies and wars going on. Distilled down to it’s essential plot, it’s a great story, and I really do want to know where it’s going.
I have been meaning to write this post for awhile (since June actually), but I haven’t gotten around to it till now. I wanted to discuss what I’ve been reading this year.
Here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far this year:
1.Chistmas Cake Murder
2. The Gate Thief
4. The Gatefather
5. Dark Matter
6. Hocus Pocus + Sequel
7. Mortal Engines
8. Beautiful Creatures
9. Early Riser
10. DuckTales: Treasure Trove
11. And Then There Were None
12. The Dark is Rising
13. The Mists of Avalon
14. Jem: The Outrageous Collection
15. The Roller Birds of Rampur
16. Bridget Jones Diary
17. Symptoms of Being Human
18. Waiting to Exhale
19. Soul Music
22. The Mermaid
23. The Dreaming Volume 1
24. The Book of Speculation
25. The Girl in Red
26. Artemis Fowl
27. The Hunger
As you can see, I read a variety of things. This year
I’ve read some young adult fiction, graphic novels, a couple of thrillers, some
sci-fi / fantasy, and even an Agatha Christie classic. I try to read from a
variety of genres because I tend to not get bored that way or hit reading
slumps too hard.
I just wanted to mention briefly some of the highlights
of my reading year so far.
Symptoms of Being Human
The Book of Speculation
The first because it’s an important book for right
now in our society. It challenges the notion that gender is binary. I feel
everyone needs to read this book now, with an open mind, and really let it sink
The second book because it is smart sci-fi (which is
my favorite genre to read). It’s not about space or aliens, but about parallel
universes, and the chaos that would ensue if we could travel between them. I
could not put this one down when I started. Highly recommend!
The third because I bought it on the discount book
shelf and didn’t expect it to be as great as it was. It’s about a family and
their neighbors and how their lives are all intertwined in ways even they don’t
understand. There are mermaids and carnies and a house falling into the ocean.
Seriously, great read.
Anyway, I just wanted to touch on a few of these. Happy reading and writing this month!!
It’s time for my mid-month (or slightly later in this case) check-in. I am working on several projects this month. I am writing the short story of the month, prepping for “Writing Camp” in July which I am doing with one of my sisters, so I am super excited, and I am starting a letter writing project with another sister.
In addition to these things, I wanted to break from my tradition of having my second post be about my writing struggles for the month and do something I haven’t done in quite awhile (so bear with me) — a BOOK REVIEW.
This month I read Altered Carbon. I read it because my sister recommended the show to me, but I prefer to read than to watch tv. Anyway, I LOVED IT!! I highly, highly recommend it.
I felt like I was “reading” a graphic novel. It was violent and gritty. The fight scenes were bloody, graphic, and really well written. (I enjoy a good fight scene).
In addition to being violent and brutal, it’s a detective story mixed with a dystopic sci-fi tale. It takes place on Earth in a galaxy that has been colonized and has changed because people don’t have to die anymore. They can be “re-sleeved” and placed into other bodies, even synthetic ones.
I don’t want to give anything specific away. Go and read it.
Last month, I read all four of the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris. I admit that I have seen most of the movies before I read the books, and recently, I watched the first season of the show Hannibal. The reason I decided to read these is that I was wondering why Hannibal is such a popular villain. I have seen allusions to him in other novels, in comic books, and various TV shows.
After reading the books, I get it. He’s a really well written bad guy. He is just evil for the sake of being evil… or is he? After I finished the series I saw him a bit differently.
WARNING: SPOILERS COMING
Let me begin by describing my general thoughts about the series of books. My strongest reaction to these books is that they seem to be written by different people. Stylistically, they are very different. And, even though they are considered a 4 book series, I wouldn’t even classify them as the same genre.
The four books I think should be read in the order they were written.
Silence of the Lambs
The reason I say they don’t fit into the same genre is that the first two books are what I would consider crime thrillers. Both stories are about the FBI tracking a serial killer, and in their hour of desperation, they consult with Hannibal Lecter because he has unique insight into killers.
As a reader, you learn a lot about Lecter in these two books. He is depicted as pure evil, and he likes to manipulate people. He is kind of humorous in a dark, grotesque kind of way. I think readers like him because in the first two books at least, he is a very well written villain, and he is also smart and often finds ways to manipulate the very people who have him locked up. In the first book, he toys with Graham, an FBI agent who has trouble with crime scenes because he experiences pure empathy. In the second book, Lecter meets Agent Starling.
These two books are fairly typical for crime dramas. There is a clear bad guy, clear good guys, and in the end, the bad guy is taken down by the hero or because of the hero’s actions. However, how these books differ from the normal crime thriller is that the character of Lecter is presented in a way that you want him to escape, even though he is a known serial killer. And unlike the TV show Dexter, Lecter is not a serial killer who hunts down “bad guys.” Lecter likes to kill people who he finds rude, which is most people. He really is evil but you will be rooting for him anyway.
After the first two books, I expected the third, Hannibal, to be similar — it’s not. The third book is about Hannibal on the run and Starling trying to find him and a man named Mason trying to get his revenge on Lecter. Again in this book, we are made to feel sympathetic to Lecter. We don’t want him to get killed by Mason and his man-eating pigs. We want Lecter to be free, and I personally couldn’t wait for him to “get” Agent Krendler who is determined to bring down Starling simply because he’s a chauvinist.
This book is not a crime thriller like the rest. I would call it a thriller, but it is not necessarily about crime. It’s about revenge and some very crazy people.
By the end of the book, I was beginning to doubt Starling’s sanity as well. The biggest surprise to me was that in the end, Starling decides to “love” Lecter. I seriously thought, “What the hell?” I feel like the author thought that would be a really twisted ending after everything that Lecter has done and so Harris changed Starling to fit that role. It annoyed me a little because I felt like she was suddenly a different character.
This brings me to the fourth book, which is a prequel to the entire series. Of all the books, I liked this one the least. Just as Harris rewrote the character of Starling in the third book, the last book provides “justification” for why Lecter is the way he is. I didn’t like it. I thought he was a much stronger character when he was just evil for the sake of being evil. Instead, the fourth book tells the story of his childhood and how he becomes evil because he witnesses some Nazis eating his sister. Anyone would be crazy after that.
Another reason I didn’t like this book as much as the others was that it’s not a thriller like the others. I guess I would call it a psychological drama or something like that. There are still “bad guys.” And again we are made to sympathize with Lecter, but I felt like Harris was forcing it. He was forcing me to feel sorry for Lecter, and I enjoyed reading about him more when I didn’t feel sorry for him.
Overall, they are still page turners. I finished each one in a day. I get why people read them when they were originally published, and I get why they turned them into movies. (Especially the third book. It reads like a script at times rather than a novel).
And my final conclusion about the Lecter series, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, is that I like the movies and the TV show better. I very rarely say that about novels vs. their big and little screen counterparts, but in this case, I would say, watch the movie. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal is fantastic and really creepy. And I’ve only seen the first season of the TV show Hannibal, but so far, it’s really great. I can’t wait to see where they go with it.
Every year I try to read the Nebula Awards Showcase anthology. If you don’t know, the Nebula Awards are given for Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writing. I look forward to the collection every year. And last year, I started ordering the older copies from Abebooks.com. (I love that site). I almost have every year now.
Anyway, when I read, I have a tendency to compare what I’m reading to other things that I’ve read. I try to judge a book on its value alone but in this case, I can’t help it. So, as I was reading the 2013 collection, I was comparing it to the 2012 anthology.
In all honesty, I thought the 2012 collection was better. Now, to be fair though, there are still some really great stories in the 2013 set that I would highly recommend. However, the new book just didn’t wow me like last year’s did.
Before I talk about some of the stories that I did like, I wanted to add one other thing you should know about the Nebula Awards collections. They usually feature poetry. Yes, you read that right. Sci-fi or fantasy poetry. And I’m here to tell you, it can be pretty weird.
Weird poetry aside, some stories that I think are really great from this collection:
1. “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
This story is truly magical. It’s about the relationship between a mother and her son. I don’t want to tell you more than that, because it’s really, really, really great.
It’s one of those stories that isn’t your typical sci-fi or fantasy story but I’m so glad it’s in this collection.
2. The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
I love this story! I couldn’t get over the complexity of the universe that this author created just for a short story. It’s about a girl and her learning about the past. It’s also about an ice owl, but I won’t tell you what happens other than that.
When I finished reading this, I was hoping there was more. I would love to read a novel length work set in the universe created by this author.
3. Excerpt from Among Others by Jo Walton
This, as you can guess from the title, was a snippet of a novel that they included.
The novel is now on my “To Read” list.
The excerpt introduces us to one of the main characters, a girl, who is about to go to boarding school. I can’t add more than that, not because I don’t want to give anything away, but because there’s not much else to go on from the snippet. I have to admit one of the reasons I say this is worth reading is because it peaked my curiosity and now I need to know what happens.
4. “Sauerkraut Station” by Ferrett Steinmetz
If you only had time to read one story from the collection, this would be my choice.
Unlike some of the other stories, this story is more typical. It has some known sci-fi devices. It is set on a space station. There is a war going on that involves two different factions with different belief systems.
What isn’t typical about this story. The main character is a girl who lives with her female relatives and together they run a “truck stop” in space. In particular, their station is known as “Sauerkraut Station” because they serve sauerkraut that they make themselves right on the station.
I can’t explain why exactly this was my favorite out of all of them, other than I just thought it was really well written. For a short story, it was very complex.
5. “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen
This story is about our world after aliens have arrived and blocked out our sun. In order to survive, the humans that endure are forced to live deep in the ocean near vents that produce heat.
The story is also about the generation of children who are born down in the ocean. They want to see the sun. They form a “cult” like group that worships the sun. Eventually, the teens steal some subs and make their way to the surface because no one has been to the surface in years. Guess what they find when they get there…. I’m not telling. Read the story. It’s good.
There are many more in this collection but I felt like those five were the highlights. One of the things I love about the Nebula collections is a lot of time the stories that are featured aren’t your typical sci-fi and fantasy. There aren’t a lot of dragons or light sabers. Instead, there are a lot of characters in a vast array of settings surviving and being a part of some very unique universes.
I have mixed feelings about this book but I will get into that in a second. I also have to confess that because I hadn’t heard of the book before my sister gave it to me, I looked it up and read some short reviews on goodreads.com. I found the reviews fascinating, especially after I read the book. There was one review that basically boiled down to the person saying, “I hated this book.” There were also people who felt kind of ‘meh’ about the whole thing, and there were a few who actually liked it.
I don’t feel like I fit into any of those categories. As I said, I have mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed this book. I think it was beautifully written and engaging. I had hard time putting it down. The reason for my mixed feelings though has to do with the content of the story. Fair warning, spoilers coming.
The central plot of the story is about a woman, a man, and the man’s adopted son. At one point in the story, we learn that the boy is being beaten – severely beaten. As readers, we feel sorry for him because in addition to being beaten, we know he comes from a traumatic past and has some physical handicaps as a result of that past. The plot though, as they say, thickens because later in the novel we learn that his father is the one who has been beating him the whole time.
At that point, I honestly thought why doesn’t the woman just beat him to death (believe me, she is capable). So, a little boy is being beaten by his father and the other adults in the boy’s life know about it and do nothing about it. That isn’t actually the part that bothered me. What bothered me is that at the end of the novel, the boy is beaten so badly that he is hospitalized, and they don’t know if he’ll wake up. He does. And then after what I would consider a very short time, he goes back to live with the same people.
The same family that let him get beat every time his father was drunk gets him back. ⊲That right there is why I have mixed emotions about “liking” this story.
I like it because it is so well written, so the people who got hung up on the novel’s use of Maori words need to let that go. I didn’t find the author’s use of another language problematic at all.
I like it because it is set somewhere that I’ve never read about before and is about a culture I’ve never read about before.
I like the characters, even the father. They are wonderfully written.
What I can’t bring myself to like is a child being put back into such a harmful environment and the author makeing it seem like that’s a happy ending.
So, in the end, I don’t know. It is a great book, but can I say that I “like” a book with an ending like that?
I have wanted to read this series ever since I saw the movie The Seeker. I thought the movie was okay, but I could tell while I was watching it that there was a lot of something left out. The script of the movie seemed very incomplete to me. Perhaps this is because the movie is based on the entire series, not just one book, and so far I have only read the first book.
The first book though is really great and so much better than the movie. I can’t wait to keep reading this series. While I was reading this book I didn’t feel like I was reading a book written for kids. What I mean by that is that the story is complex and even though the main characters are children, they are well written. Too many juvenile books that I’ve read make the children characters very one dimensional. Cooper doesn’t do that. These kids are smart and brave, but they still see the world with childlike wonder.
Another part of this story that I enjoyed was the villains. They are sneaky, and everything they do seems malicious. I thought they were great villains that didn’t do anything terribly diabolical (other than being evil).
I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the basic plot is that there is a great battle for good and evil going on in our world that most people don’t know about. A few though, like the characters in the Cooper novels, get caught up in this battle. In order to prevent the darkness from conquering our world someone must prevent the villains from finding artifacts that will give them an advantage. The children accidentally get pulled into finding an artifact hidden in the time of King Arthur.
This review is going to cover the first two books of the Vlad Taltos series.
I picked these books up because my brother in law always raves about them. I think these might be some of his favorite fantasy books, and now that I’ve read two of them, I get why.
I can’t tell you if the series stays good throughout because I’ve only read the first two so far, but I want to tell you what I like about the series in general and then I’ll get to talking about each book.
To start with, the series is great because it is not your typical fantasy novel. Many fantasy authors feel the need to write massive tomes that involve histories and back stories until you can’t remember who’s who and what’s what. This series doesn’t do that. In fact, Brust spends next to no time explaining what happened in the first book while you’re reading the second. I think this keeps the pacing of the book and doesn’t bog you down with unnecessary details.
Another thing I like about this series is that even though there is a dragon in the book, the whole world doesn’t revolve around the dragon. Some fantasy novels make the dragons more interesting than the people who are with them. That is not necessarily a bad thing, I really love the Temeraire series, but this series is different and that’s a nice thing – variety is good, especially in a genre that can be formulaic at times.
A third reason I enjoyed these books is that the main character is a bad guy. He is an assassin, which means he is technically bad, but he is also the hero and the guy you root for. This is not the first series to focus on an assassin or the first to make you empathize with a bad guy, but I just like that he is not all goody-goody.
Now, for the first book – Jhereg. This is the first book in the series so there is a bit of history included just to make the readers more familiar with the world that Brust is creating. However, as I said before, he doesn’t bog you down with this. The one part of back story that I wanted explained a bit more was about the different races of the world. There are 17 races from what I can tell and the first book only discusses a few of them. I assume the others come up later on in the series, but still I wanted to know what they were.
The pacing of the novel is fast. The best way I can think to explain the pace of this book is that it felt like watching an episode of a show rather than watching a full length movie. Does that make sense? Basically, I feel like there is more to come.
The characters are really great and well-rounded. The main character is Vlad Taltos and he is very complex. Is he good? Is he bad? I feel like there is a lot more to him and that alone makes me want to read the rest of the books.
As for the second book, Yendi, it actually takes place before the first book chronologically. When I first started reading it took me a couple of chapters to catch that. I wasn’t expecting the second book of the series to jump back in time, and the story of Yendi tells us even more about how Vlad became who he is without feeling like you are reading one long flash back.
I admit that I also like that all of my favorite characters are back, especially Vlad’s dragon (humanoids, not lizards) friends.
Again the book feels like an episode of a much longer story yet to be told. I can’t wait to read more of these books.
If you are looking for a quick read from the fantasy genre, I would recommend these. Also, if you don’t love fantasy that is like 8000 pages long, these are quick reads that give you great stories.
Our Guest Reviewer, Mindy Lavender, has returned again this month to bring us another young adult review. This time she is reviewing an entire series.
Mindy is my sister, best friend, an avid reader, a historian, a feminist, a youth director, a wife, and so many other things…
Who doesn’t want to read a fast-paced trilogy about a girl who goes to a boarding school for teen witches, shape shifters, and fairies? If that sounds like something up your alley, pick up the Hex Hall series by Rachel Hawkins: Hex Hall, Demon Glass, and Spell Bound. Hex Hall has a fun and non-complicated plot line. Each installment is perfect for a couple hours of guilty pleasure. What I liked about these stories is that they were fast and easy reads. Not life changing, just fun. I also liked the story because it adds another voice to the world of magical creatures. Hogwarts is great, but what about the kids who don’t go to Hogwarts? What happens to them?
The Hex Hall series tells the story of Sophie Mercer, a half-witch raised by her human mother. Sophie can’t control her magic and is sentenced to school at Hecate Hall by her estranged warlock father, who happens to be a big shot in the magic world. In the first story, we are introduced to Jenna–the lone vampire student at Hecate Hall, who loves pink and is Sophie’s roommate. We also meet Archer, Sophie’s love interest…who is not really that interesting. He’s handsome of course and smart…but kind of boring. Both Jenna and Archer remain important to the supporting cast throughout the series.
Book one, Hex Hall, primarily deals with Sophie’s difficultly transitioning into life with other magical creatures. She feuds with a trio of popular witches who are very one dimensional forgettable characters. More interesting is the relationship Sophie develops with the ghost, Alice. Which leads directly into book two, Demon Glass, where Sophie has to deal with the fact that she is half-demon not a half-witch. The action takes places in England (so cool.) She also finds out that her father, and by extension her, were purposefully “bred” by the magic community to fight the “The Eye” (a community that seeks to destroy all magical creatures for the good of humanity.) Book Three, Spell Bound, and my favorite, has Sophie working with the Brannicks against the magic community. (The Brannicks are a group of red headed women who were at one time white-witches. They are considered an enemy of the magic world. Sophie finds out that her mother was once a member of the clan and should be its rightful leader.) The series ends with an epic good vs. evil showdown. I bet you can’t guess who wins?
All and all, the books are good…not great…a six out of ten, but if you need a young adult fiction guilty pleasure read I recommend the series, Hex Hall.