Friday, March 24, 2017

Weekend reads and more snow?

It seems unlikely that March will go out like a lamb as we're facing some windy, wet days ahead of us!

I wish I'd be snuggled in for long stretches of reading, but the toddler has stopped napping (nooooooooooooooooooooo!) so I'll be playing (and undoubtedly reading!) with him.

Among my many reads at the moment (I'm doing the start-a-bunch-and-see-what-sticks browse/read thing right now) is Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. It's inspired by/set in Lovecraft's world of watery sea gods and I'm deeply excited.

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book Review: The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

First line: On a warm December day in 1884, the Temptation was leaving Hawaii, as well as the nineteenth century, and her destination was entirely in my hands.

I had been on pins and needles for this book after inhaling (and loving) the previous novel, The Girl From Everywhere (which also made my top ten of 2016). I'm really wrestling over whether this book was as good as the first one -- or better -- and it's given me a serious book hangover.

I'm not sure I can really recap the story without getting into the weeds, and I really don't want to give away anything crucial. Our heroine, Nix, and her father, Slate, have the ability to travel through time, and to any place, if given a map of said time/place. 

Picking up immediately where The Girl From Everywhere ended, this book dives into the now what? of the Nix's life and abilities. They've got a new crew member who has just learned about Nix and her father Slate and their incredible ability to sail through time; Nix's father has just decided to try, once more, to kick his addiction and he's obviously ill and struggling. Without Slate's obsessive search for Nix's mother to drive them, it's up to Nix to figure out what the Temptation's next voyage will be.

A strange run-in propels them to the mythical island of Ker-Ys, an Atlantis-like "utopia" off the coast of France. But from their first moments there, it's obvious something is amiss, and most of the novel focuses on untangling just what is wrong.

As with the previous book, Heilig merges real life history with her story; in this case, the tragic story of Donald Crowhurst and the pagan-Christian morality tale of Ker-Ys. (It's fine to be unfamiliar with both stories, as I was, and I don't think I missed anything. I had a marvelous time googling upon finishing!) Heilig dives deeply into the "science" of Nix's abilities as well as the questions of free will, identity, fate, obligation, and parallel universes, and it makes this wonderful adventure tale all the more rich and emotional.

Despite all the flash-bang of the intriguing world-building, the heart of the novel -- and what makes both books so compelling -- is its people. Nix is a fantastic heroine -- smart, competent, mature for her age without being an adult dressed as a teen -- and the other characters are frustratingly, wonderfully complicated as well.

I was captivated with this book and could not put it down; but I'm pretty sure I'm going to reread it this month because I want to be re-immersed in her world. I can't recommend both books enough, and I'm so eager to see what Heilig comes out with next.

Title: The Ship Beyond Time
Author: Heidi Heilig

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Fantasy / Young Adult / Mythical Land / First Romance / Nautical / Time Travel / Historical Figures Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Greenwillow Books (2/28/2017)
Source: Edelweiss
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Read Diverse

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend reads and, I don't know, shortbread?

I'm starting a bunch of books this weekend because why not?

Among them are Amberlough, a gay spy thriller that's allegedly "Le Carre meets Cabaret" (uhm, yum!); and two Lovecraftian-inspired novels, The Night Ocean, about a man obsessed with Lovecraft; and Winter Tide, a novel that takes place in the world of monsters Lovecraft imagined. I'm super excited about all three and have been for a while.

(I'm also showing off the utterly deeeevine raisin-and-carraway seed shortbread my wife made in honor of St. Patrick's Day.)

Otherwise, stuff has been happening, and also, not much. Current political climate sucks, and I'm divided over liking the snow storm(s) and kind of wanting spring here.

What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

First line: This is a landscape an art-therapy patient might paint to represent depression: grey sky and a sweep of featureless peat rising out of the sea.

Pretty much the moment I laid eyes on the cover of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. And then when I learned the premise -- a memoir of a novelist who spent three months on an isolated island in the Falklands wrestling with her novel -- I knew I seriously had to read it.

Upon finishing her MFA, Nell Stevens learns that there's funding to support her traveling anywhere in the world so she may work on her writing for three months. Craving time alone, Stevens settles on Bleaker Island, part of the Falklands. Her memoir shifts between her time on Bleaker, her time before Bleaker, snippets of her novel in progress as well as other fiction, and other ephemera (like her travel proposal, with snarky annotations).

Her narrative style is just lovely, quotable sentence after quotable sentence (you can read a long excerpt of the hilarious first chapter at Vogue), and I don't think this will only appeal to aspiring writers. It's travel writing at it's best: vivid, funny, extreme, centered in place and peppered with piquant people.

I loved Stevens' honesty about herself and her experience on Bleaker, and her open insecurity about her writing, her skill as a writer, and her future as a writer really struck me in the tender places where I'm anxious about my writing.

Much like My Year With Eleanor, Stevens and her story will undoubtedly hit some readers the wrong way. Something about young women doing daring things, occasionally unsuccessfully, will do that, and even I fall into the trap of being irritated by a blithe narrator. But in this case, I was one million percent with Stevens every step of her journey, and as a result, this book really touched and moved me.

This will be one of my top ten reads of 2017, I'm confident, as I literally couldn't shut up about it -- my wife said I mentioned it four times to her in one evening!

Title: Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World
Author: Nell Stevens

Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / Contemporary / Creative Writing / Falkland Islands / Writers on Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Doubleday Books (3/14/17)
Source: NetGalley

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

First line: Ove is fifty-nine.

This was a read for my book club, which is the only reason I started and finished this book as it unfortunately got under my skin from the first page. (Not totally true, I guess; I did actually tear up a little at the end, and it was a truly sentimental read, but that annoyed me, too.)

The story felt predictable from the start: Ove, an older man (more on that later), is a curmudgeon. He's from a generation that believes in a kind of standard in work and life, and the humor of the story comes from his disconnect with what life is like now. Backman alternates between Ove now and Ove growing up (my favorite bits), so we can see why this cranky old man is the way he is. Along the way, his charming neighbors jolly him into a kind of happiness. The end.

My biggest complaint -- after the predictability of the story -- is Ove's curmudgeon-ly-ness. I work with many who are 59 years old, and even the grouchiest of them are nothing like Ove. It was hard for me to remember that Ove was 59, for I kept imagining him as 70+.

I genuinely can't say more for this book -- it's a very fast read -- I actually read it on my phone! -- and it's a very feel good book if you're in search of something like that. (Practically saccharine sweet, which even I need now and then!) But I just wasn't keen on following cranky-old-white-guy-learns-to-love-again. The rest of my book club uh-dored it, so don't trust me!

Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman, trans. by Henning Koch

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Sweden / Neighbors / Grief)
Publisher/Publication Date: Atria (7/2014)
Source: Scribd / Hoopla

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book Review: Ruler of the Night by David Morrell

First line: On Thursday evening, 22 March 1855, a frowning gentleman studied a two-page document that lay on his substantial desk.

This is the last book in Morrell's historical fiction trilogy about British writer Thomas De Quincy, and his daughter Emily. I loved both earlier novels (Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead) and this final book was a perfect conclusion.

Morrell explores the first murder on a steam train, an event that I hadn't really considered but obviously, there's a first for everything. And this is a pretty juicy first to explore. Morrell takes many of the real life details of the murder and weaves it into a larger, complicated plot full of peers and the made-their-fortunes-from-trade comer-uppers. The country is gripped in a panic that railway travel isn't safe, and there's pressure on De Quincy and the police to figure things out -- without revealing too many secrets of the rich and powerful.

As with the previous two novels, I was really there for Emily -- and the resolution of her so-far-not-romantic-but-clearly-romantic-interest triangle with police detectives Joseph Becker and Sean Ryan. (That might sound tortured but it's actually lovely -- she has chemistry and connection with both men, and both men respect her and each other, and there's really no triangle, just a kind of uneasiness as everyone realizes they like each other but they're not the kind of folks to do a triad so someone's going to be heartbroken. Honestly, it sounds messy but it's really just emotional and tender and subtle and mature, and frankly, a relief to watch unfold.)

While I'm bummed to say goodbye to Emily and company, I'm also delighted to have some neat resolution for these characters rather than have the series rattle on into predictability. If you like atmospheric reads, intriguing murder mysteries, and a hero struggling with addiction, pick up these three books -- they're among my favorite reads since I've started blogging!

Title: Ruler of the Night
Author: David Morrell

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / Victorian / Murder Mystery / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Thomas De Quincy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Mulholland Books (11/15/2016)
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction