Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Thoughts - Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
first published 1992
578 pages

Synopsis -

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin--barely of age herself--finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.

My thoughts -

Am I the only person around here who has a list of books somewhere - likely floating around in your head - called, "Books I AM Going To Read Someday Because I've Heard They Are Great", but that you almost never actually get around to reading? It's funny how each time I manage to read one of the books from that list, it winds up being, in fact, GREAT! Why don't I just read them all right now? One of the great mysteries of the universe.

Doomsday Book was on that list. I think it hit my radar when Raych talked about it, and then I saw someone else talking about it, and I filed it away on that Books I AM Going To Read....list, and here i am finally getting around to reading it. And WHOOOOO, boy it was good.

Doomsday Book wasn't the kind of good where each sentence is beautifully constructed, and the words flow together, and you just love the way the author has mastered her craft. Not really at all, in fact. Willis' writing is fine, but that's not why you read this book. You read this book because of the story that grabs you by your neck hairs and doesn't let go. I think what made Kivrin's story so gripping for me is that this stuff actually happened - clearly, not the time travel aspects. But once Kivrin was in the 14th century, all that horror was real. Real people lived through it. Real people were completely helpless in the face of it. It was terrifying, and it wasn't made up. I found this review on Goodreads, and I think it perfectly sums up my feelings (apologies for the language) -

"Connie Willis shows us that we do not need to look to the future for an apocalyptic setting suitable for exorcising whatever demons haunt us, testing whatever faith we may or may not have, revealing the height of humanity's capacity for compassion or the depth of its misery. We had the mid-14th Century for that.

These ain't Jesuits on a distant planet, or a man and a boy wandering down a road.

This shit really happened, people."

The juxtaposition of Kivrin's troubles in the Middle Ages and the Present-Day epidemic was also striking, because it showed a clear picture of the ways in which humanity has not, in fact, changed that much in a couple of thousand years. People were just as ignorant and cruel and apathetic in the present as we like to accuse those who lived in the Middle Ages of being, and frankly we know better and should be doing better. It was a stark, pointed reality check in the midst of an increasingly dark story.

I thought this book was great. I do agree that it dragged a bit toward the end, but I was so terrified for Kivrin that I couldn't stop reading. If sci-fi is your thing, I would definitely recommend this one. I cannot wait to read more by this author!

Finished - 11/15/15

MPAA rating - PG-13 for realistic portrayals of death and some pretty scary stuff
My rating - 4/5

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Look Who's Back....Back Again...

I suppose it was inevitable. How could I possibly stay away for long? I made it almost a year, and the itch is just back. I don't know how often I will post, how long my posts will be - it's going to be pretty loosey-goosey around here, but I am sure it will be fun.

I thought about trying to recap my entire reading year so far, but that seemed like a horrible idea, honestly, so I'll just talk about something that has been a revelation to me this year - the graphic novel. I KNOW I've been aware of them - I KNOW people have talked about them - but for some reason, I hadn't really checked them out until this year. And now? I'm hooked.

I spent a bunch of time on the wonderful website Panels and got a whole STACK of recommendations. I've been fairly quickly working my way through the first issues of each, and basically falling in love with every one. There were a couple that didn't work as well for me, but all in all the recommendation staff at Panels is top-notch, and I've found a new reading love affair. Here's a few highlights -

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley & M. Goodwin

Synopsis -

Princeless is the story of Princess Adrienne, one princess who's tired of waiting to be rescued. Join Adrienne, her guardian dragon, Sparky, and their plucky friend Bedelia as they begin their own quest in this one of a kind, action packed, all-ages adventure!

My thoughts -

This was just SO much fun. I like the bending of gender stereotypes, I like that Princess Adrienne does NOT look like a normal Disney princess, I love the cast of characters and the projected arc of this story. This is a series I will definitely be adding to my personal collection.

Fables by Bill Willingham, et. all

Synopsis -

When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White's party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown's sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf (Bigby Wolf), to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose's ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.

My thoughts -

We all know I love a good fairytale retelling, and this series retells ALL of them. Characters interact fluidly in this giant fairy tale mashup, and they are definitely not the characters you grew up with. I've read the first three volumes of the series, and while each has it's own contained story, there are hints of a larger arc that will involve the mysterious Adversary that I cannot wait to dive into more deeply. This is definitely not for kids, but adults who loved these characters growing up will be fascinated to read the ways in which their stories continue. Definitely recommended.

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

Synopsis -

Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she's suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she's comin' for you, Jersey! 

My thoughts -

This would be a great book to introduce your tween to the world of graphic novels. It's action-packed but never gratuitous, it deals frankly with issues of identity and place, and it's just a lot of good fun. It seems sometimes to be a bit "Issue-Heavy", but I think my feeling is colored by my years and years of reading experience - I suspect a young teen would miss that heavy-handedness completely. I have read the first 3 volumes, and think Wilson's characters are great and the situations actually quite realistic, as far as a superhero comic can be. I can't wait to continue with Kamala's adventures.

The Wicked + The Divine by Gillen McKelvie and Wilson Cowles

Synopsis -

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever. 

My thoughts -

This book is.....the hardest to pin down. It is by far the most adult, the most over-the-top, the hardest to follow and requires the highest levels of suspension of disbelief. Sometimes I honestly don't quite know what is going on. And yet I am completely enthralled. This idea is fascinating - it's execution sometimes a bit choppy. I've read through the first two volumes, and while I do intend to keep reading I would like to see a bit more world-building of some kind. This series does have killer cliffhangers, though, so I can't help but pick up the third volume to see what happens next! Recommended with some reservations - very adult in language and situations.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Synopsis -

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults. 

My thoughts -

For anyone who thinks a graphic novel can't hold as much drama and emotion as a tradition book, I tell you to get a copy of Saga. Holy buckets, folks. I've only read the first volume, but I am seriously TENSION FILLED about what will happen next. This is more than just a good graphic novel - it's good storytelling on every level. No wonder it won the Hugo. This is another book that is definitely adult, so reader beware. But if sci-fi is your thing, I recommend this one highly.

And those are just a few! I've discovered so much great stuff in the graphic novel genre this year - I'm excited to say I am fully onboard! I've discovered fiction, nonfiction, crime drama, fantasy, and more speculative fiction than you can possibly imagine. What an amazing collection of writing. If you haven't yet, go check it out - if you don't know where to start, head over to Panels, where you will find a whole list of ideas in a very short amount of time.

And hey, kids - I'm back!!  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

On Goodbyes

Oh, friends.

It's just not in me anymore. I've loved the time I've spent on this blog - I've loved the people it's allowed me to meet, the events it's allowed me to participate in, the new books I'd never have read without the people I've met & the events I've participated in.

But I just don't have the desire anymore. I still want to talk about books - I definitely still want to read them - but blogging just isn't how I want to do those things anymore. So I think this is goodbye.

I'm still going to be in the book world, reading your blogs and joining in with the fun, bookish stuff going on in the world. I'm just going to have to find a new way to do those things. For the few of you interested in still keeping up with me, I have a whole list of bookish accounts that I am much more active on than this blog - come find me if you want!







It's been a good run - a wonderful experience - and I'm leaving with nothing but good memories. (And a giant TBR list.) Here's to new experiences and adventures, and new ways of expressing the reading life that I love.

If you need me, I'll be hanging out with these two - reading books.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 In Review

It's that time of year again - time to look back over the highlights (and lowlights) of the past reading year. Once again, I was lucky to have many more highs than lows - I don't know if that is due to my increasing ability to choose books I like, or my increasing dependence on reviews from readers I trust, but no matter the cause I'm certainly happy with the outcome.

I read little nonfiction in 2014, which is somewhat unusual, but can most likely be attributed to the lack of large chunks of time to read. I generally do better with nonfiction when I can devote several hours over a weekend to reading a book - that doesn't happen much lately. But here are the best of my nonfiction year -

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot -  we all know that good nonfiction reads as compellingly as fiction, and this would be a book to prove that thesis. Fascinating and heartbreaking, this story made me think about the good of science vs. the good of the person, and which really is the most important.
 Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer - given to me by a good friend, this is a lovely book about choosing to follow the voice of vocation in your life. Had I read this book as a 20-year-old, it most likely would have become one of the seminal books in my life. Coming to me later, it was a good reminder to listen for the truths that your heart tells you. Wise and gentle, a thoughtful read.
 Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton - This book became much more than a book for me. It became a mantra - a philosophy - a call to live the life I want to life. Melton's words are wise, funny, and gracious, reminding us all that love really is the most important thing. I loved this book so hard.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber - This spiritual memoir will, quite honestly, not be for everyone. For me, it was a breath of fresh, redeeming air that resonated with my soul. Faith doesn't have to look the same for everyone, and sometimes the questions are the path to true belief. Beautiful, real, and spirit-filled.

Fiction was by far the bulk of my reading this year, which isn't a huge surprise. There is just nothing like getting lost in another world for a while to make my world feel right again. A LOT of my favorite reads of the year were speculative fiction - sci-fi or fantasy - which is also not a huge surprise. They've been a staple of my reading diet for years. Here are the highlights -

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - this was my first read of 2014, and it was a stunner. Gaiman's story of a young boy saving himself is a meditation on memory and the power of words, and it was unforgettable.
 A Woman in the House by William E. Barrett - a loan from my mom, this is not a book I would ever have chosen on my own, but it was a truly beautiful story about two unlikely characters coming to love each other in the strangest of circumstances. Once again, my mom is always right, and her taste in books continues to be pretty darn good.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - I think I loved this book from the first sentence, and didn't stop until I turned the last page. These two quirky characters completely stole my heart, and the bittersweet ending was absolutely perfect. Wonderful.

 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - I finished a classic this year! That always feels like an accomplishment. I have to admit this one was a slow starter - I nearly gave up, but eventually Magwitch wormed his slimy way into my heart, and then I was lost in the story. I'm happy I finally made the time to read this much-beloved story.

 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - there is just something about Tartt's twisty, unpredictable door-stoppers that keep me reading page after page. I don't know that I actually liked any of the characters, and there were points that felt S L O W as mud, but she always makes me want to find out what happens in the end.
 The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin - definitely not a book that will appeal to everyone, but I've always loved novels that take Biblical characters and imagine lives for them, and Toibin's Mary has doubts and anger that seem so natural to the life she has lived. This was thought-provoking and beautifully written.
 Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones - my first DWJ, but certainly not my last, this was a delight from beginning to end. I'm hoping to visit more of this world in 2015.
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - I think I liked this MORE than the first in the series, which is pretty rare for me. I know the ending left me with a pit in my stomach, and a deep need to know what happens next. I love the author's use of found photographs to augment the story - they add a creepy element that feels just right. Love this series.
 Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund - I can't remember how I first stumbled on this series - it might have been a library impulse read - but it's becoming one of my favorites. The two books seem so different, yet when they connect the story becomes so much richer. I love Peterfreund's feisty, take-charge heroines, and her homages to classic books are lovely. I hope there are lots more volumes in this series!
 The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin - I chose this for my Diversiverse read this year, and it was fantastic. Not a perfect novel by any means, but so entertaining that the flaws didn't really bother me. I'm looking forward to reading the next books in this series in 2015.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson - the last book I finished in 2014, and it was a whopper! Well over 1,000 pages, and while it took some time to truly get into the story, it was well worth the investment. I am fasincated by this world, it's religion, politics, nations and peoples. I am eagerly looking forward to the (many) upcoming volumes in this magnificent series.

Of course, there were a few stinkers - as my New Year's gift to you, here are three to stear clear of in 2015 -

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (poorly imagined and convoluted)
Taking the Lead by Derek Hough (superficial and unsatisfying)
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (really just wrong in every possible way)

I don't keep track of stats, really, but I'm going to be more intentional about what I read in 2015, so maybe the keeping of stats will naturally follow. I've been running with the "read whatever I feel like" method of choosing books, and while it's been fun, it has also lead me to a backlog of books on my shelves and TBR list that are just not getting read. In 2015, I am going to be much more purposeful about reading the books I've already chosen - of course, I will continue to abandon with glee books that don't strike my fancy. Life is too short to read boring books.

Here's to 2015 - let's make it another great reading year!