Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy

Phew.  I just finished The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.

I’m feeling very… emotionally drained.  I need to preface this post by explaining that I do NOT like drama – I don’t watch TV shows (generally) and I don’t like a lot of real-life books.  I picked this one up, originally thinking (very mistakenly) that it would be a murder mystery (it is not at ALL).  Instead, it’s a story that deftly weaves the lives of numerous small-town characters together.  It deals with life – the gritty, sad parts of life. Abuse (substance, physical, emotional, sexual), bullying, addiction, relationships, and politics all feature throughout.  There is a diverse cast, all of whom you do get to know and can sort of sympathize with or at least understand their motivations.  Spanning generations (from teens to grandparents), the book is sort of about filling a vacancy in the Parish Council resulting from the sudden demise of Barry Fairbrother.  It’s more a story of people – their relationships and their struggles.

A few points:

  1. I thought it was very well written, once you got into it.  The start was pretty slow, as it was just an introduction of what felt like a bazillion characters.  The introduction was necessary as the story then jumped around quite a bit between all these various people.
  2. It is most definitely an adult book and is completely totally radically different than J.K.’s previous works.
  3. I respect that it deals with some difficult issues – a LOT of difficult issues.

All told, it was not for me.  I cried (a lot) and feel drained and sad at the end of it.  I don’t handle real-life drama / sadness well, so that definitely taints my view.   So much so, that I’m not going to attempt to rate this book.  I will say that I think others would enjoy it (I bet my husband would like it actually) but if you’re a lover of YA Fiction it is not for you.

*Update: I will rate it, as I feel I do need some sort of record of my feels.  Bear in mind my comments above: 2/5

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Ransom my heart

Ransom My Heart

So, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read books that I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that I absolutely love.  This is one of them – it’s totally a silly, fluffy romance novel, but I love it.  This is my second read through – I first read Ransom My Heart a few years ago when I was on a big Meg Cabot kick.  I love the idea that it’s “written” by Meg’s character, Mia (who stars in her Princess Diaries series).

This is a historical romance, set in England during the era of the Crusades.  A fiesty redhead, Finnula needs to raise money for her sister’s dowry.  Hugo Fitzstephen is the returning knight, home from the Crusades with plenty of riches and a wish to settle down to pleasant country life.  The youngest son, he never thought to inherit his father’s title, but as he’s the last left in the line, home he comes – stepping right into Finnula’s trap.  Both get more than they expected out of the bargain!

I like Finnula – though I doubt she is in any way historically accurate.  Independent, stubborn, and fierce, she has a hot temper and a few secrets.

Hugo – outwardly shaggy, with hidden depths and morals, succeeds in riling up Finnula’s temper – while wooing her heart. (lol, yes, it’s a romance. I can say wooing).

A tidy romance, with enough of a plot to make it interesting! I like how the story unfolds, as Finnula’s (and Hugo’s) secrets are slowly revealed.  Plus action and such!  (Yay bows and arrows!  Swordfights! Romance!)

5/5.

Sometimes you just have to read a romance novel, and enjoy it.

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August 27: Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters

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Hello!  Top Ten Tuesdays is a Meme hosted over here by The Broke and The Bookish. Because lists are great!

This week: Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone One for the Money The Princess Bride Artemis Fowl Wild Magic

The Hunger Games Lord of the Rings anne of green gables cover MatildaPride and Prejudice

1. Neville Longbottom – or Luna Lovegood – or Hagrid – or Fred and George Weasley… okay, there are a lot to choose from, but I’ll keep it to those three as my favourites.  (I consider Ron and Hermione MAIN characters just FYI, though Harry obviously is the protagonist). Obviously from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

2. Grandma Mazer (By The Numbers series by Janet Evanovich) – Stephanie Plum’s grandma is a firey old lady.

3. Indigo Montoya – The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  I love him. (“You killed my father. Prepare to die”).

4. Foley – Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer.  Foley is an awesome, snarky, super smart Centaur. (I also highly appreciate Butler and Julius Root).

5. Cloud – Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce. the darkings are actually awesome too (they show up in book #4: The Realms of the Gods)

6. Cinna the Stylist dude in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Cinna was brave, and fabulous!

7. Eowyn – She kicks some witch-King butt in Lord of the Rings! (J.R.R. Tolkein)

8. Matthew and Marilla – in Anne of Green Gables (and Davey- who shows up in later books).  Brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla couldn’t be more different in personalities, but I love them both.

9. Mr. Collins – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. He’s not my favourite character, but he’s certainly memorable!!

10. Ms. Trunchbull – Matilda by Roald Dahl.  Oh Ms. Trunchbull – such a mean and nasty person could certainly never be forgotten.

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Cloaked

Cloaked

I’m still getting through books I read on my vacation.  Cloaked is an original tale that combines a lovely mix of lots of different fairy tales, including The Elves and the Shoemaker, a Frog Prince, the siblings-turned-swans story, and various others I was less familiar with. Bonus! It’s got a boy protagonist! Very refreshing!

Basically, Johnny has a pretty normal life, working at his family shoe repair business at a fancy hotel in Florida.  His best friend, Meg, works at the coffee shop next door, and Johnny and his mom get by  – barely.  Things are turned upside-down when the arrival of a Princess sets of a magical chain of events, leading Johnny to track down / rescue her brother (now a frog), with the help of a magical cloak. Adventures ensue!

Recap:

  • Love books with boy protagonist – always refreshing.
  • Lovely mix of lots of different fairy tales.
  • Strong female character and very decent/wholesome/excellent male main character.
  • Fun idea – love the shoe references!
  • Light, refreshing writing.

4/5 (because I can’t say it was my absolute favourite – there were a couple times when I was frustrated by Johnny’s apparent density / stupidity) – I would definitely recommend it though!

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Plain Kate

Plain Kate

Plain Kate by Erin Bow is the story of  Kate, the wood-carver’s daughter.  Kate is talented with a carving knife – almost too talented.  In a land where witches are burned when things go wrong, skill such as Kate’s may be dangerous.  Kate must use her wits and her skills in order to survive.  An ill-fated trade changes Kate’s life around, as she gives up her Shadow to escape a town increasingly uneasy with her.

Learning the ways of the group of nomads that Kate is permitted to travel with, she becomes good friends with Drina.  Kate learns more about the ill-fated deal, and decides to get her shadow back from Linet, the witch who took it.

Kate must find herself, try to save those she cares about, and try to survive a world of shadows and witches.

Thoughts:

Taggle – Awesome cat, who adds much-needed comedic relief.
Linet – Strange and kind of crazy witch who I never learned to like
Kate – Strong when she needed to be. Talented, a little naive and dumb. Her morals / heart were in the right place after all, though I doubted it for a while.

4 / 5  (Acknowledging this is a tween type of book)

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Top Ten Tuesday – August 20: Top Ten Things That Make Your Life As A Reader/Book Blogger Easier (maybe it’s Goodreads or your library or different resourcers etc. etc.)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish over HERE.  Because they like lists.  I do too!  This week, it’s the Top Ten Things That Make Your Life As A Reader/Book Blogger Easier (maybe it’s Goodreads or your library or different resourcers etc. etc.).  I’m going to get to the top FIVE.

1. Goodreads.  I definitely check most if not all of the books I read for what Goodreads users rate them as, before trying them out myself. www.goodreads.com 

2. My Public Library.  I definitely get MOST of my books from the library – mostly downloads / e-books and some paper books. (There’s not a super convenient branch, so when I want a paper book I tend to buy it, borrow from a friend, or wait to put a bunch on hold at once). 

3. Other Bloggers / Commenters – it’s nice to get comments / feedback and also see what other people are reading and whether or not I want to pick those books up too!

4. Time to Read. I have a shorter commute (only half an hour!) and I’ve taken a break with some of my after-work activities during the summer, which gives me more time to read.  Unfortunately, I drive to and from work and there is NO time in my busy day to read on a break, but I do occasionally snatch an afternoon or lazy sunday where I get to read all day.

5. My husbandHe’s instrumental in helping me find time for reading or blogging – and catering to my book addiction.  I also sometime bounce things off of him, and have used him as a test subject for books I think I’ll find difficult.

What helps you?

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Sisters Red

Sisters Red

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce is sort of a Little Red Riding Hood Adaptation – but I find it pretty faintly related.  There are the sisters.  They wear red hoods.  There are wolves.  There is a Grandma.

Scarlett and Rosie, the sisters, are Hunters of Wolves.  The Fenris (werewolves) are evil, soulless creatures who lure and kill innocent young girls.  After losing Oma March and an eye to a Fenris while protecting her younger sister, Scarlett has made it her life’s mission to hunt and kill every Fenris she can.  Rosie also hunts – though more out of obligation to Scarlett than enjoyment.  The two are aided by Silas, a young woodsman.  For Rosie and Silas, hunting isn’t everything, a fact that Scarlett cannot comprehend or accept.

The Hunt is on – and time is running out.

I am not sure if I liked this book or not. I read it aloud with my two sisters.  We took turns reading the Scarlett / Rosie chapters, and reached the consensus that it wasn’t our kind of book.

I didn’t like Scarlett.  She was too single-minded and obsessed, dwelling on either the Fenris or on her own scars.  For Scarlett, the world was completely black and white – good vs. Fenris – and it got old pretty quick.  I mostly liked Rosie (except for her moments of self-hatred).  She was at least a little more rounded, and experienced some character development.  I did like Silas, who provided a nice balance against both girls.

The fight scenes were exciting, and I was glad there was a little bit of a love story, although all in all, it was a pretty gory and DARK of book.

I thought the ending – while not toe-curlingly satisfying, was right.

Update: I will give this one a 2.5/5.

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The Selection / The Elite

I have been eagerly anticipating reading The Elite ever since finishing The Selection a little while ago. I feel like my wait was rewarded as I really enjoyed The Elite!  I decided to re-read The Selection for the purposes of writing a post and also to make sure the characters and story were fresh in my mind as I read the sequel.

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In The Selection, America Singer is chosen as one of thirty-five girls to attend “The Selection” – a process by which the Prince will choose his bride / the next queen.   (Think ‘The Bachelor’ in book form I suppose?).  For most girls, this would be the dream – a chance to be a princess and to change her station in life.  America only wants to be with her secret love, Aspen, who is a caste below her.  Pushed into entering, she is swept up in a contest that holds no prize she wants.  America discovers that first impressions may not be what they seem, and Maxon might just be a prize worth fighting for.  Despite the constant threats of rebel attacks, some catty other competitors, and her own confused heart.  I am NOT a follower of the Bachelor, but I really liked this book.  Set in a post-world-war-four era, Illéa is a relatively new country (encompassing North America), led by a monarchy.  Society is divided into Eight Castes – and your usefulness to the founding government determined your place in society.  It is an interesting way to divide society and results in a lot of unjust inequality.  Few of the lower Castes make it into The Selection, and few will remain in the competition.

I liked this book a lot, despite myself.  I still have misgivings about the whole Selection thing, but I liked America as a character – she’s feisty and has a temper and her indecision is understandable.  I really like Maxon – a guy who is thrust into a somewhat awkward situation.  He seems like a noble guy – compassionate and interesting.  I also like Aspen, but feel he’s too prideful / emotional / impulsive.  I am not a rule-breaker, and Aspen sometimes breaks more rules than I’m comfortable with.    I would give The Selection a 4 / 5.

If you haven’t read The Selection then be warned: my description of The Elite will necessarily include some spoilers, since it is the second book in the series.

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okay, ready?

The Elite

The Elite picks up where The Selection leaves off, with the competition narrowed down to six.  America is still torn between Aspen (the former boyfriend) and Maxon (the Prince) and can’t seem to help bouncing between one and the other.  She is pretty indecisive, and I can’t help but be a little frustrated by it.  After begging for time and more time from Maxon, she finally seems ready to commit, only to be shaken by an unexpected plot twist. Her trust in Maxon is rocked and she goes back to being wishy-washy for a while.  Time is running out, as Maxon must narrow down his choices in the face of increasing Rebel attacks.

And of course, the book leaves off without any real decision so things could go either way – Aspen or Maxon.  I’m personally rooting for Maxon (and hoping that Aspen secretly falls in love with Lucy, one of her maids, just so he wont be lonely).  I’m hoping that this love triangle can be laid to rest soon.   The Rebel element adds to what might be a kind of annoying drama / angst-y type book (I’m not a fan of the Bachelor type show OR idea, which is funny because I do really like this series!).

I was more annoyed by America’s indecision in this book, but I still liked it just as well as the first so I’ll give it a 4 / 5 also!

There is one Novella out (The Prince) that is told from Maxon’s point of view and I can’t wait to read it!  A second Novella (The Guard) will supposedly be published before the final instalment in this series: The One.  I can’t wait for next year to read it!!!

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Top Ten Tuesday: August 13 – Top Ten Favourite books with [an alternate history] Setting

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Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted over at The Broke and The Bookish (see here) because lists are fun! This week is the Top Ten Favorite Books With X Setting (ie: futuristic world, set mostly in schools, during World War II, books set in California  etc. etc. So many possibilities!)

What setting to choose?  There are so many fun ones!!  I have decided to go with Alternate History.  Books that take history and reinterpret it or add a fun twist (like magic):

1. The Leviathan  trilogy (The Leviathan / The Behemoth / The Goliath) by Scott Westerfeld –  A steampunk twist on WWI pitting ‘monster’ (well, genetically engineered animals) against machines. Airships! A love story!  It’s great!

The Leviathan Trilogy

2. Soulless  by Gail Carriger.  And the rest of the Parosol Protectorate series! Also Steampunky! With werewolves and vampires!  (I did a review here).  I would also add Etiquette and Espionage to this entry, as it’s by the same author (see here).

 Etiquette and Espionage

3. His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.  (And Series).  Re-imagining the Napoleonic wars, but with DRAGONS!

His Majesty's Dragon

4. The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey.  Actually, all of the Elemental Masters series fits here, but this one was perhaps my favourite.  The series touches from early 1900s to sort of WWI-era, with excellent fantasy elements inserted.  Bonus – they are ALSO mostly fairy-tale adaptations!

The Gates of Sleep

5. Sphinx’s Princess / Sphinx’s Queen (see reviews here).  Nefertiti / Ancient Egypt.

Sphinx's princess Sphinx's Queen

6. A Spy in the House (and the rest of The Agency series) by Y.S. Lee.  Takes Victorian-era England and features strong female characters embroiled in espionage!

A Spy in the House

7. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.  I do love this adaptation! (and honourable mention to Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters – which is somewhat clever but not quite as good.)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

8.  The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – This one sort of fits… and I include it because of the alternate “history” of the book Jane Eyre (which is central to the plot).

The Eyre Affair

9. 1984 by George Orwell.  Included because it’s such a literary classic.

1984

10 – In which there is no specific event but there is a hidden or parallel world:

a) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.  I couldn’t pass this up – a whole alternative magical world of Wizards, hidden to muggles / regular folk?  Awesome.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone

b) A Spell for Chameleon – and all the Xanth novels – by Piers Anthony.  A whole different land parallel to Florida?  With PUNS!

A Spell for Chameleon

On the topic, I hear that these are also good (but I haven’t read them myself):

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

🙂

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The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer is the second book I’ve read by Jasper Fforde (the first being The Eyre Affair).  Unfortunately, I think Fforde’s writing style suits an adult audience much better than a young adult genre.  I was quite excited to read this book – mostly because the cover made it seem really exciting when I picked it up at my local bookstore (and then put it down and waited to get it from the Library).  I was a bit disappointed to be honest.  It was… okay, but not brilliant.

In The Last Dragonslayer, Jennifer Strange is the almost-16-year old acting manager of Kazam.  A foundling, Jennifer has two years left of indentured servitude.  She seems to like managing Kazam – the magicians / sorcerers / wizards are a batty, interesting lot.  It seems like managing them is at times like trying to herd cats and fill out lots of paperwork while herding.  Magic is drying up, it seems, and the glory days are overshadowed by mundane magical plumbing, pizza delivery, and odd jobs.  Things get even more interesting when predictions roll in that the last Dragon, residing in the adjacent Dragonlands, is about to go belly up (at the hands of the Last Dragonslayer).  If the prophesies are true, all may change… and of course they’re true.  Big Magic is coming.

Redeeming quality of the book: I liked Jennifer a lot.  Strong, smart, independent, no-nonsense, she was a delightful character. I also quite liked the newest foundling to Kazam, Tiger.

Otherwise, I found this story to be more plodding than exciting, more political than dramatic, and devoid of connections between characters.  Relationships (even friendships) seemed very surface, and characters were simple / less dimensional.  The world seemed interesting and quirky, but I didn’t really grasp what kind of place it was supposed to be.  In some senses, it was too matter-of-fact for me.

I feel like I’m bashing this book more than it deserves.  It is an interesting story, which some unique characters (e.g. the Quarkbeast).  It does have some good morals – sort of (e.g. not selling out to corporate interests … mostly).  Just because I didn’t find it gripping doesn’t mean someone else won’t enjoy it more.

I’ll give it a 3 / 5.  Average / decent effort.  There are two sequels but I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series.

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