21853633The most amazing thing about SAA is she has a formula, but I cannot get enough of it. What dark magic is this?! They’re the closer thing I have to a guilty reading pleasure.

First Frost is a return to the Waverly family we first meet in Allen’s most popular book, Garden Spells. All the women in the family have a gift and their house and garden literally have a life of their own. This subtle use of magical realism is a trade mark of Allen’s wonderful books, as well as an irresistible Southern charm.

First Frost starts about 10 years after Garden Spells and we find Claire has put aside her catering business and is now a full-time producer of hard-candy. Sydney’s magical hair salon is thriving, and Evanelle is still giving people just what they’ll eventually need. The main character thought, is Sydney’s daughter Bay, who has the gift of knowing where things belong (which we learn can also be a curse!). There’s also a side-story about a stranger that walks into town without the best of intentions.

Reasons why it’s a solid 4-star: Bay is great. She’s a misfit, but a confident one, proud of her heritage. I also really liked the theme of “what makes a family” that pops up at different moments (Sydney and Violet’s baby, Evanelle and Fred, the Waverleys and their husbands, the question of wether you’re a true Waverley if you’re not gifted).

Reasons why it’s not a 5-star: I could have done with more Bay and less mysterious stranger and the book should be longer!

Comment about a spoiler [so far the Waverley had relatively domestic gifts. But now Claire’s daughter can see and communicate with dead people? That feels a bit beyond the cozy feeling of Allen’s stories.]

Are you a fan of Saran Addison Allen? What’s your favorite? I’m split between Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen.

***

Other thoughts: Lessa’s Book Critiques, The Bluestocking Society, Annette’s Book Spot, Stacy’s Books, Capricious Reader, Booke’d Out, Workaday Reads, The Eclectic Reader, Always With a Book, Ex Libris (yours?)

BRRead for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge:
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure.

Atticus force

Read for nomadreader’s Read-along. Didn’t do much “along”, but at least managed the reading part!

I first read To Kill a Mockingbird almost 10 years ago, on pre-blogging times. I remember turning to my then boyfriend and say “This is a perfect book.” I was completely awed by it.

I know there’s not a lot I can say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before, so just some quick thoughts for posterity:

This time around it didn’t feel as flawless, but I found new depths. It especially struck me how the idea of empathy (or perhaps of empathy as a way to critical thinking?) is so omnipresent.

The book starts with Atticus telling Scout “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view (…) until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” and ends with Scout really internalizing this idea, as she looks out on Maycomb from Boo Radley’s house:

“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

And in between those two moments hard lessons need to be learned (so hard that many adults in Scout’s life never get there) and beliefs challenged. Atticus demands this empathy from his kids and Lee demands it from us for every single character, from Dill and his mysterious life in Mobile to Mayella’s pretty flowers, from Dolphus Raymond’s Coca-Cola to Maycomb in general, that apparently throws Atticus under the bus. It’s brilliant how we’re brought along Scout’s journey and at the same time are challenged ourselves. For instance, I was ready to completely dislike Miss Caroline and nasty Mrs. Dubose, no clemency.

Growing up is hard, and race and class are some of the hardest things to deal with. I continue to be awed by the way Lee shows us Scout’s mind opening up and struggle against both the status quo and any challenges to it. Reminds me of the time when I began to travel and read more widely and started questioning the glorious Portuguese history I’d learned since early childhood.

Favorite characters the first time around: Atticus and Calpurnia. Favorite characters now: Calpurnia and Miss Maudie. Miss Maudie is amazing and I hope to see a lot more of her on the upcoming Go Set a Watchman.

The first two of the six books I’m reviewing for Armchair Audies’ Mystery category.

20613611Malice (Kyoichiro Kaga #4) by Keigo Higashino, narrated by Jeff Woodman 

The best thing about Malice is the way it moves away from the classic mystery novel timeline. The audiobook is about 7 hours-long and the mystery was solve less than 2 hours in. The rest of the story is all about the motive and peeling layers of backstories until the whole truth is uncovered. Malice is not about whodummit, but why. The pace is gentle, with no major action, but there were a couple of creepy scenes, made creepier by the narrator (good thing!).

It’s the fourth in the Keigo Higashino series, but the first to be published in English, so I suspect that’s why Detective Kaga does’t get as much character development as I’d like. A shame. I got really curious about him.

About the narration, I felt Jeff Woodman’s strength (sample) is to be able to make each character unique. I’ve still to decide if this always is a good thing, because it can work like book covers with faces: it plants images in your mind instead of letting you create them. For instance, Detective Kaga sounded meticulous, rational, introverted and Nonoguchi sounded old and frail. These were things I got more from their voices than what they were saying. Woodman also faltered a bit on the Japanese names, especially at the beginning.

I’m sorry to report that Malice still wasn’t the first Japanese book I’ve read with an interesting female character. I don’t want to generalize because I haven’t read Japanese literature that much, but this is starting to bug me: I need RECOMMENDATIONS! Help me break the spell!

51SYGEOC6xL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hounded (Andy Carpenter #12) by David Rosenfelt, narrated by Grover Gardner

Hounded’s is about policeman Pete Stanton being accused of murder and asking lawyer Andy Carpenter to defend him – clearly I should be more impressed by this, because these two have History, but I’m starting at the series’ 12th book…

But to be honest, I don’t think this was the reason why I didn’t enjoy Hounded. The plot was completely over the top: Mafia, FBI, a contracted assassin, euthanasia pills for dogs gone missing, a new dead person in every chapter (or so it felt), a tech wiz that can find out anything (such a plot cop-out), a lovable orphan boy happily going to sport events a few days after his father is murdered in their home, a lawyer that conducts the worst witness interviews I’ve ever read about,…

BUT! I really liked the narration :) For some reason, Grover Gardner’s voice reminded me of Sheriff Amos in Murder, She Wrote. Haven’t seen an episode in ages, but Gardner immediately brought Cabot Cove to mind, in a sort of genial, look-at-us-happily-solving-murders-among-friends kind of way. Listen to the sample to see what I mean. He brought to life a book I’d have dropped after a couple of chapters. My only tiny quibble was his struggle with Latino accents.

It was a hit & miss month:

Picture1

Preacher, Volume 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

Still not exactly sure how I feel about Preacher. I’ve the notion it’s very clever and deep, but ended up feeling I didn’t quite get it. Maybe because I’m not religious and the point is to ruffle believers’ feathers? Maybe because, in a story so full of layers and questions about Good and Evil, the villains are 100% bad, no grey areas?

Glad I’ve read it, but will file it under “Good, but not for me”.

Ms. Marvel, #1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona 

Hurrah for books that live up to the hype! Both the story and art felt so refreshing, and unlike Preacher, it was written just for me. Most reviews focus on the fact that Kamala is the first Muslim super hero, but for me the innovation is that’s not the most important thing. Ms. Marvel is still a classic story of a superhero’s origins, where the superhero just happens to be a girl, and a person of colour and a Muslim. Like Peter Parker before her, Kamala also struggles with her costume and the “with great power…” thing, she’s still trying to figure out who she is. The book is good because it has characters that are genuinely interesting, writing that’s full of smart humor, a gripping plot gripping and attractive artwork.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore

Oh Alan Moore, you’re losing me. With every new League book I’m trying to regain the magic of the first two, without success. Were they also this trippy, full of naked women for no apparent reason, and I just didn’t notice?!

Saga Vol. 2 and Vol.3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The series just keeps getting better and better. I’m loving every new character, from Gwendolyn to Upsher and Doff, as well as all the backstories (Alana’s love for that book!). I could have done without the implausible black-whole baby in Vol. 2, the “He’s the man I love!” line in Vol. 3, and still not convinced about the opposite of war thing, but hey, who’s counting?

Picture2

longbourn-cover-1Longbourn is a behind-the-scenes look at Pride and Prejudice. As Baker explains, “when a meal is served in P&P, it has been prepared in Longbourn.

I’ve read a lot of Austen spins-offs and vowed never again many times, but I’m glad I kept at it, because this was probably the most rewarding of them, with maybe the exception of Bridget Jones.

Who knew that after all the hidden diaries, explicit retellings, male points of view and modern adaptations, it would be the story of Longbourn’s servants that would push all the right buttons?

Several readers compared it to Downton Abbey and Upstairs/Downstairs, but I don’t think they compare in realism. In Longbourn, it’s almost as if Baker was responding to all those criticisms about how Austen is only concern with the superficial and the lighthearted, what Charlotte Brontë described as “a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flower”. No poverty, no war, no messiness.

Austen avoided the less than pleasant side of day-to-day life? Baker gives us a hyper-realistic description of what the weekly washing day would look like for Longbourn’s maids. The cold sores, menstrual napkins and sweat stains. There’s also childbirth, dirty diapers and a Mrs Bennet just a little too dependent on laudanum.

Baker also imagines Bingley’s fortune comes from the sugar trade and there are vivid descriptions of the slavery and human traffic associated with it.

Austen never tackles the darker side of war? Baker follows the Bennett’s footman through the Napoleonic War in Portugal and Spain. There’s starvation, mutilation, lashings and desertion.

We even get a glimpse at Elizabeth’s life at Pemberley after her happy-ending, where she’s “being what she was required to be.”

Described like this it sounds like it’s a dark and heavy book, but it really isn’t. It’s definitely a candid look at life in the Regency Era, but it’s also a love story and about female friendship, dreams, ambitions and making your own way.

Highly recommended to all Austen fans.

***

Other thoughts: Eve’s Alexandria, That’s What She Reads, bookshelves of doom, Vulpes Libris, a book a week, Literate Housewife, Leeswammes’s Blog, Beth Fish Reads, Quirky Bookworm, an adventure in reading, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castle, RA for All, Lizzy’s Literary Life, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author (yours?)

Anything I should pay special attention to? Anything I should put on the back-burner?

(1/102/10, 3/10)

IMG_5944 (1)

91RnIEO+lbL._SL1417_(NO SPOILERS)

A community lives in an underground silo for generations and its origins are lost in time. People are told the silo protects them from a toxic outside world, a world they can only see through a single TV screen. The air outside is unbreathable and far away the skyline of a destroyed city is visible.

This is the premise of Wool, the first of the Silo series. It’s marketed as an adult dystopia, but apart from the characters’ age, it’s not much different from the Divergents and Maze Runners of this world: an unexplained post-apocalyptic world, human curiosity disrupting the system, an elite struggling to preserve the status quo.

In general I enjoyed the book. The first chapters triggered my need-to-know obsession and the ending was full of the promise of revelations to come. Jules was a strong and realistic female character and I cared for her right from the start. I understand the commercial success formula requires a romance (this was a self-published book, so likely Howey was more attuned to it), but Jules’ interest, Lucas, was far less interesting and I could have done without that relationship altogether.

Howey clearly put a lot of thought into the world-building and that was the most interesting part of the whole story: the silo’s different levels, nativity control, food production, disposal of human cadavers, electricity production – fascinating stuff.

If you’ve read the book, I’d be really curious to know your thoughts on (still no spoilers):

  • Why it’s considered an adult book and not YA? Is it just the hero/heroine’s age? There’s no sexual content, and definitely less violence or social commentary than, for instance, The Hunger Games. Is it because it focuses less on romance?
  • Considering the need to preserve the situation in the silo, and that there’s a mention of an organized religion, shouldn’t religion play a much bigger role in the story? Wouldn’t it be an obvious ally of IT?
  • I listened to it in audiobook and the narrator gave the villain a nasal voice that was the embodiment of the Evil Doer. (Seriously, I expected an evil laughter – MUAHAHAHAH! – at several moments). However, when I finished the book I wondered if this caricature was just due to the voice or if he could’ve been better developed. What say you?

So in summary, I had fun and at moments was completely engrossed in the story. I’m also looking forward to the future movie adaptation. On the other hand, I wished it pushed the boundaries of the genre, to become something I’d never read before. But the strongest feeling of all was the need to talk about it, and that’s always a good sign!

***

Other thoughts: Rhapsody in Books, SF and Fantasy Book Reviews, Leeswammes, The Guilded Earlobe, Book Den, Collateral Bloggage, Stainless Steal Droppings, Speculative Book Review, Book Monkey, Don’t be Afraid of the Dork, a book a week, A Garden Carried in the Pocket (yours?)

Even since Armchair Audies began in 2012 I’ve been and enthusiastic participant. Even during my blogging hiatus I listen to my category’s nominees (or at least the ones managed to get from outside the US).

I’ve always chosen History, but I’ve been increasingly bothered by the restriction in themes: large majority American history, and within that, mostly WW2. This year I even took a look at Non-fiction, but not much variety there either: American topics, all male writers, all male narrators.

Maybe I’m making too much of this, after all it is the American Audio Publishers Association!

Anywhoo, this year I’ve decided to armchair-judge the Mystery category. Unlike History, where I was always the only judge, Mystery is popular and I’m actually looking forward to seeing if all judges chose the same winner (right, Susie?).

So for the next couple of months I’ll listen to:

Picture2

  • The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo; Narrated by Kathleen McInerney; Macmillan Audio
  • Hounded by David Rosenfelt; Narrated by Grover Gardner; Listen & Live Audio, Inc.
  • Malice by Keigo Higashino; Narrated by Jeff Woodman; Macmillan Audio
  • Missing You by Harlan Coben; Narrated by January LaVoy; Brilliance Publishing
  • Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva; Narrated by Jeff Woodman; Audible, Inc.
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith; Narrated by Robert Glenister; Hachette Audio

Will you also join Armchair Audies this year?

IMG_8258

So I spent last week in New York, and between a visit to Forbidden Planet and Strand, this happened.

Some are series I already follow (Serenity, Saga, Chew, Fables), others were your recommendations (Ex Machina, Ms Marvel, Runaways, Rat Queens, Hawkeye) and other were pushes from the nice staff at Forbidden Planet (Locke & Key, Preacher, Planetary).

They’ll keep me busy for a while and fully supplied for the Graphic Novels Challenge 2015.

Stiff_Cover(Yes, I realize I’m about 10 years delayed in reading Stiff).

Unfortunately, Stiff didn’t quite rise to my expectations. Mostly because I was expecting a different book. I thought it was a detailed description of the decomposition of a single cadaver, possibly with chapters organized by time (Chapter 1: 30m After Death, Chapter 2: 24 Hours After Death, etc.). Still think it this would be a really cool book, but alas, it wasn’t this one.

With adjusted expectations I immediately started creating new expectations, but managed to really-really enjoy the first two thirds of the book. It was fascinating to learn more about the cadaver trade during Victorian times and the body farms that help students learn more about body decomposition. But Roach started to lose me on the long chapter about crash-test dummies and I was *this close* to skipping during the trip to China.

Basically, I wish she’d have spent more time on the history of humanity’s treatment of dead people (so much to cover, so many cultures, two world wars!) and less on contemporary cadaver-disposal options. I’m know this is all about what I wanted Roach to write, but there you have it, can’t be helped.

I was surprised by my lack of squeamishness. Actually, the parts that were harder to listen to (audiobook) were about the living, like the victims patients of early surgeries and placenta-eating moms.

So, in summary, fascinating stuff, and Roach has my respect for tackling an almost taboo topic, but ended up with mixed feelings due to strong opinions about what she should have written. #entitlement

***

Other thoughts: Rebecca Reads, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, Confessions of a Bibliophile, You’ve GOTTA read this, The Book Brothel, Savidge Reads, Bookshelves of Doom, Love, Laughter and a touch of Insanity, The Cheap Reader, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Lakeside Musing, Capricious Reader, She Treads Softly, an adventure in reading, reading comes from writing, Peace of Brain, Reading Through Life, eclectic/eccentric (yours?)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 259 other followers