Monday, December 25, 2017

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I guess I had higher hopes for this from the author's previous books. Again, it's ordinary people in everyday situations trying to make a life, but, even with the musical references, I wasn't drawn in. Frank is a big bear of a man, devoted to keeping vinyl alive as a source of audio listening, and he has the knack of finding just the right bit of music for someone at exactly the time it is needed. He carries wounds from his past and is surrounded by a band of misfits who inhabit the street where his somewhat lackadaisical vinyl shop resides. And then, one day, a woman faints outside his shop door, and for all in the book, the world changes.

I really wish I liked this book better. Even with the references to music, the little explanations and stories attached to various pieces, and some moments of beautiful writing, I never was fully drawn into the story. But, I've liked two other works by this author, so I am not giving up on her.

Thank you to the publisher and to LibraryThing Early Readers program for sending me this copy. The book is due out January 2, 2018.

Tags: 2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, an-author-i-read, early-review-librarything, everyone-else-liked-it, mixed-feelings, ok-but-not-great, read, somewhat-disappointing, thought-i-was-gonna-like

Friday, December 22, 2017

Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

When I was three, we had a house fire. I was tucked in my bed in a tiny upstairs bedroom. A fireman rescued me, and when he set me in my mother's arms, I told her "he carried me out, just like Superman." I knew a good hero when I saw one. When I was offered the chance to read an ARC of Smoke Eaters, even though I wasn't sure if this was my kind of book, I said sure, because Firefighters vs Dragons? Heck yeah.

This was a good romp in a future world, where not only has the United States devolved into city states, but a plague of dragons is pretty much boiling up from the center of the earth, hellbent on feeding, mating, and consequently ravaging everything in their path. Cole Brannigan, a firefighter for 30 years, is just about to fight his last fire, when he finds out he one of the few people who are immune to dragon smoke. He is recruited into a group called the Smoke Eaters, an elite cadre of people who can withstand the smoke, and fight the creatures destroying the civilization above ground.

Things get dicey as the dragons get stronger, and political intrigue, in the form of a dastardly plot to take over the city, is discovered. Brannigan and his cohorts spring into action to fight the baddies, be they scaled or human. It's a pretty entertaining story. Oh, did I mention there are also wraiths? And robots? And some kick-ass battles?

Aside from my early firefighter interaction, my knowledge and appreciation of these men and women grew when my own son, also age three, developed a major fire truck (and firefighters, by extension) fascination. From that experience, and the inside views a hero-struck boy was given by very kind firemen* the details Sean Grigsby used in the novel all ring true, thanks to his firsthand experience as a firefighter.

It's my understanding that this may develop into a series. If so, I think it could be something fun to follow. I'd like to see a little tightening in the descriptions and rules of the world as it unfolds (but, I do like the cicada theory) and the interactions between the former US and Canada or other countries. The strengths of the book lie in the realism of the characters and of their work in fighting fire. One can extrapolate that the techniques applied to fighting dragons also rings true, but personally, I hope we never find out. But it settles one thing. I do want a robot dog.

I received my copy from the author's agent, for which I am most grateful. The book is due out in March 2018.

*There were no women that we met as firefighters in the early 1990's, though there are many now.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire

I've read the Wayward Children books in a topsy turvy manner, starting with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, then Every Heart a Doorway (I actually bought another book with a similar title thinking it was this one, and by the time I figured it out, had "Sticks and Bones" in my hands so read that first). The only one I've read in order is this, and I'm so glad I did, because it answered a lot of questions I had from Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

Children disappear for a number of reasons, some nefarious, some with an element of magic. That there are doorways between worlds is accepted, thanks to wardrobes, subtle knives, portals, and other devices so many of us have come across in literature. (I personally believe books are gateways, too, but that's another story.) Sometimes those of us who leave one world and enter a different one can stay there, sometimes we come back for one reason or another, sometimes we long to return to that other place-- to find the doorway to take us back. Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, provides a place for those wishing to return to their new world from their home world of Earth, r wait for a new door to open.

In the second book in the series, we were introduced to Eleanor West's home and some of the students living there. This book doesn't exactly take up where that one left off, though it does take place after in time. What it does do is focus on some of the other students, peripheral in the original story, and weave a story where they go on a rescue mission, taking them to a couple of other worlds.

Again, a fascinating story -- one which proves there is a place for each of us, and that maybe it's true: those who live in gingerbread houses seem to have cold, cruel hearts.

The book is due out January 8, 2018.

Thanks to friends at Tor for sending me this advanced readers copy. You're the best!

From the publisher:
Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the "real" world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

Bowl of Memories

Bowl of Memories
The story goes that the level of my grandmother's cooking was so good, that she used her oven to store her mail. It never got turned on. Ever. That fabulous chicken remembered from childhood visits to her home in Brooklyn was from the deli down the street, under the El* across from Uncle Izzy's candy shop.

My grandmother was a small, but strong  woman. You had to be to run a business, raise 4 children, keep a home, and support the love of your life in his endeavors, all during the depression, and while speaking a language not your native tongue. There's even a story our uncle told us, which our mother denied, and my eldest brother adopted as a gospel truth. The icebox in one of the apartments she rented out to tenants died, and a new one was delivered, but the person who delivered it refused to take it to the 4th story walkup. It was summertime in the city. The man was no fool. Faced with a problem, and no one available to help her, my bubbe* managed to heft the thing and carried it up. By herself. Did I mention she was 5 feet tall or less? In our childhood imaginations, it was our tiny 80 something bubbe hauling the Matag refrigerator/freezer that graced out kitchen, up an impossibly long flight of stairs. Our bubbe was tough.

 Our bubbe while not the best cook, did excel at a few dishes. She made a mean chopped liver, and good gefilte fish. (Each parent claimed their mother made the better gefilte fish, which resulted in my mother not making it, and opting to buy it from the deli.) When she made these dishes, she used a wooden bowl and a hackmesser, a chopper similar to a messaluna or ulu, though not crescent shaped. This variant was from Eastern Europe; messer means "knife" in German, and hack translates pretty obviously.

Chopping Bowl
The bowl where she did her chopping was simple and wooden. And she passed her bowl and hackmesser to her eldest daughter, when her daughter got married. That daughter was my mother. The bowl and chopper were ever-present in our home. I remember chopping spinach and hard cooked eggs in it as a teenager. When my mother moved to South Carolina to live with us, it moved too. Somewhere along the line, something noxious had spilled in it, staining a portion of the inside black, sinking deep into the wood, and leaving a residue that was questionable enough that nothing further was chopped in it. Resanding didn't help. The bowl stayed with us, and after my mother died, became mine. When we moved, it moved with me, because even though it was no longer used to chop, it help all those memories.

I've struggled what to do with it-- it's a hand carved bowl, with an uneven rim, and smooth sides. The inside holds the chopping scars of a multitude of meals, and has helped make the food that nourished four generations of family. I did not want to discard it, simply because it could no longer be used for what it was originally intended.

The bowl is full again, though not of food. Though I probably enjoy cooking far more than my mother or grandmother, the bowl now contains something else that is a part of me: my art. Depicted in the design are images of the cities my grandmother and mother lived. There are representations of important aspects of the lives of both, pictures of memories. Many may only be discernible to the artist, but the artist knows they are there. It is a bowl of memories. It is cherished, still. 

*elevated rail; elevated train
** bubbe (also spelled bubebubbie, bubbeh, bobbe, bobeh and bubby)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Taxonomy of Love (Hardcover) by Rachael Allen

Normally I am not that fond of novels that mix letters, emails, etc into the text as plot movers. In this case, I didn't mind, as some really fun taxonomy drawings were part of that mix. (Also, the emails/texts between Hope and her sister made sense, as they were separated by an ocean, not by an office wall or city block as often seems to be the case when electronic communications are used as a device.) Two other things endeared this book to me -- it covers the course of a relationship between the characters (and among the characters) over 5 years, 8th grade to 12th grade, showing ebbs and flows, giving room for growth or exposures of weaknesses. It also featured a main character with a disability. Spencer has Tourette's syndrome. The author uses this as a teaching tool, modeling how (and how not) to relate to someone with a disability, be it Tourette's, Spina Bifida, or Sickle Cell Anemia. The medical treatment o Tourette's was also interesting for me, as a retired RN. It really is am alphabet soup of trying to find the right drug to do the trick along with awareness of triggers/responses.

All in all, I enjoyed this story of exploring what being a friend means, and how love grows and changes over time. Thanks to the publishers who gave me this copy while at YAllfest 2017. The book is due out in January 2018.

Tags: 2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, fantasy, read, rounded-up-in-star-rating, ya-lit, yallfest

From the publisher:
The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

Had not heard a thing about this book before it caught my eye on Blogging for Books, but it really grabbed my attention once I started reading it. Yes, it's YA, and has a lot of familiar elements, but there were some totally unexpected moments. It felt real. Matt's dilemmas with the girl next door/best friend and his passionate relationship with basketball all felt honest, even to woman of a certain age. (I'm not so old that I don't remember first love.) I loved the character of Mr Ellis, and wished I'd had him for an English teacher when I was a freshman. And thanks to this book, I'm going back and picking up Sherman Alexie's  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I've started and stopped several times in the past. I need to read the tree scene, especially since I hd my own tree scene when hiking in the mountains last weekend.

Good job, Jared Reck.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending me a copy.

From the publisher:
The unrequited love of the girl next door is the centerpiece of this fiercely funny, yet heart-breaking debut novel.

Fifteen-year-old Matt Wainwright is in turmoil. He can’t tell his lifelong best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her; his promising basketball skills are being overshadowed by his attitude on the court, and the only place he feels normal is in English class, where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt is desperately hoping that Tabby will reciprocate his feelings; but then Tabby starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star and all-around great guy. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough; but, as Matt soon discovers, he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

One of the nice things about having Yallfest in my backyard every year is that there's the opportunity to hear and meet some really fantastic, interesting people, who love books, love reading, and in some cases, write books, too. Hearing the keynote address at the 2017 YAllfest, with Patrick Ness and Renée Ahdieh was perhaps my favorite event this year. The two spoke brilliantly, eloquently, and passionately about a number of things, but for me, the takeaway message was how they each responded to not finding characters like themselves in books they read as teens, so they wrote them. As a result we have some damn fine books that explore the issues which confronted these two authors: Patrick as a gay teen, and  Renée as a girl with a face that reflects her Asian heritage. (As she said, she was pretty sure there were no books out there about girls who were half Korean, half Scottish, who played the cello.)

An offshoot of all this was a brief mention of a recent Patrick Ness book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Not everyone gets to be Buffy or one of her pals, some kids just want to go to prom, graduate, maybe kiss the person they're crushing on, and do it before the Buffy-types blow up the high school-- again.

This was a great read, and while the element of the supernaturals was present, it really was a good story about friends and friendship. It explored some aspects of life, particularly when life isn't perfect. As the cover says, sometimes you have to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. The chapter headings explore the life of the Chosen, and their story; the rest of the the chapter is devoted to a the regulars, in the form of Mikey, Mel, Jarrod, and Henna, who are, in fact, true stars, in their own rights,

Looking forward to future literary adventures with Patrick Ness (and Renée Ahdieh). I liked their straightforwardness, their honesty, their spoken thoughts, the way they related to the YA audience (with some old fart ringers, who like to read YA) and their honesty. It is with pleasure I find that I like their writing, too. (And I snagged a signed copy. Yay!)

Tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authorfantasygreat-covergreat-titlei-liked-itmet-or-know-the-authorreadwill-look-for-more-by-this-authorya-lityallfest

From the publisher:
What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions...

The Realms of God (The Shards of Heaven #3) by Michael Livingston

A pretty awesome wrap-up to a series that had both real history and fantasy to it. And did I mention it's partially set in Petra? Good stuff.

As a person who is fascinated by what has gone on before on this earth, the historical aspect of this book really grabbed me. It's not surprising because Michael Livingston knows how to tell a tale, whether it's in a university classroom, a convention for fantasy geeks, or, so I'm told by some who have heard him, an auditorium of medieval historians. He's taken his phenomenal breadth of knowledge about the days of the Roman empire, and woven a tale of mystery, suspense, added a pinch of loyalty, a dash of romance, some bad arse demons, and a healthy dash of the fantastic, then tucked it nicely around the elements of history as we know it (what is known in the trade as a "secret history".)

The Realms of God is the third, and final installation in a trilogy that starts in the times of Cleopatra (with some throw-back in the book and in a companion piece to the days of Alexander the Great) and finds its conclusion in the dusty stones of Petra. (Yeah, that Petra, which you probably remember from Indiana Jones and the something or other.) And if you're thinking that maybe Roman history isn't your thing, I've given the first book in the series to several non-history loving friends, who not only read it, but eagerly pre-ordered book 2 and 3 (which is pretty much what my history loving friends, also gifted book 1, did. I'm seriously mystified why this series wasn't marketed both as historical fiction/mystery and fantasy, but that's a complete other tangent.)

Bottom line. Read the trilogy. And if you're like I am, you'll be looking for the secret histories, hidden away in our past, everywhere. The only thing that could have made this book better for me would be if it was inscribed by the author. (Hint. hint, Michael Livingston. I could have bought a kindle version, but got the hard-copy so I can have a full inscribed set.)

tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authoradvanced-reader-copyfantasygreat-covermade-me-look-something-upmet-or-know-the-authorpart-start-of-a-seriesreadreallyexcitedtoreadsecret-historythanks-for-the-mapwill-look-for-more-by-this-author

From the publisher: The Ark of the Covenant has been spirited out of Egypt to Petra, along with the last of its guardians. But dark forces are in pursuit. Three demons, inadvertently unleashed by Juba of Numidia and the daughter of Cleopatra, are in league with Tiberius, son and heir of Augustus Caesar. They've seized two of the fabled Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of God, and are desperately hunting the rest.

Through war and assassination, from Rome to the fabled Temple Mount of Jerusalem and on to the very gates of Heaven itself, the forces of good and evil will collide in a climactic battle that threatens the very fabric of Creation.

The Realms of God is the thrilling conclusion to Michael Livingston's historical fantasy trilogy that continues the story begun in The Shards of Heaven and The Gates of Hell.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden by Jeff Wilser

Disclaimer: this is not the sort of Joe I often am associated with. There is no "cuppa" before it.

For many, Joe Biden became a name well known when he became the 47th Vice President of the United States. Even though I'm not from Delaware, I've known of Biden for a long time prior to the Obama years. This little book, which doesn't claim to be a biography or all-inclusive, gives snippets of Biden's life, often in his own words. It's more like a love poem than a serious examination, but it's a quick and interesting read, and fills out the image of the man in the memes. (And for the record, all the mentions of Hot Young Joe Biden did succeed in sending me to the internet to look for pictures.)

For the record, my favorite memory of Biden thus far is the presentation of he Presidential Medal of Freedom, with distinction, which he received in January 2017. The man's response was priceless. He is a mensch.

Thank you Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending me a copy.


It's been an up and down sort of time here in czukland. The personal interactions and relationships are all doing fine, thank you. It's the other things, the noisy confusion of life that have me muttering the lines from Desiderata* like a mantra. (Sidenote: amazing how something I loved as a preteen has managed to follow me through life, and still fit like a comfy sweater.) To mix my allusions, I'm giving that sorting hat a workout as I figure out which things to accept, which to change, and hope for that all important wisdom to know the difference.**

And yesterday, in the midst of so many things pushing hard trying to overshadow that which I treasure, it was the hearts of my friends that reached out and reminded me "with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."*  I am blessed with friends, and they help me keep peace with my soul, regularly, with a smile, a word, a memory. Thank you all, near and far. You are loved dearly, by one small bookczuk.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952; Full text here.

**Reinhold Niebuhr, American Theologian. Full quote "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

This came in yesterday's mail, out of the blue. A good friend I met through BookCrossing died almost three years ago. Another friend and I worked to make a memorial bookplate for BookCrossers to use-- our way of keeping his spirit present and honoring him. She and I share a love of whimsical art (and art in general), owls, books, and many other aspects of life. We also share a name. So it was fitting that we shared the creation of a bookplate. For this hoody, she has the owls we each created wing in wing: same thing, only different, but friends for life. Thank you, Other Amy. This, like your own spedbuggery self, means the world to me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Reusing and Inktobering all in one

A purchase from Athleta a while back yielded a lovely little tote bag. But, as much as I like my purchases from the company, and as handy as the bag has been, I felt the need to make it my own. Which I did, with the help of my markers and imagination, and a little inktober initiative.

The bonus is, I have another side and a second bag to doodle on. Yay! (For reference sake, here's the unadorned bag, and the note that Athleta put on the inside of the bags, to encourage reuse.)

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

The world has changed. It's harsh, dry, broken, and life for many is also harsh; they, too, are broken. Yet Sarah Jac and James have found love, even if they have to keep it secret, claiming to be cousins on the maguey farms in the southwest. They work hard to make enough money so they can head east and make their dream a reality. But something goes wrong and they must flee, ending up on another farm where rumors of magic and curses flourish. What confronts them there, is something totally new-- and just as dangerous.

This was a quick read, with an interesting view of the world in the near future. What created the conditions is only alluded to-- but certainly weather had a large piece of it. (There's even illusion to storms drowning the coast of Texas, foreshadowing of our own world's weather for this hurricane season.) The itinerant type of work done on the maguey farms reminded me of what I know of the Dust Bowl times. It's hard work cutting agave, I'm told. When the water is poison and the world is bleak, perhaps mescal and tequila provide more than escape.

PS I appreciated the author's listing of books which had influenced her for this one.

Tags: dystopian-ish, magical-realism, read, rounded-up-in-star-rating, thank-you-charleston-county-library, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, ya-lit

Sunday, October 22, 2017

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Miracles, magical realism, love, owls, and even a little Elvis. What's not to love? And I have a signed copy, with a very cool owl bookplate. Yay!

From the Publisher:
Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky by Kelsey Oseid

What a lovely book! I can't imagine anyone not being in awe of the night sky. It holds beauty and fascination for me. What We See in the Stars helps make the night sky accessible to most ages, offering a visual guide, science, myths, and maps to help understand what that infinite expanse holds. And the art! Did I mention the art?! Kelsey Oseid's chosen color palette fits the subject perfectly. The lines and brush strokes convey the depth and vastness, helping convey the elements the text illuminates. A great introduction for children, a wonderful review for adults, this book is a happy find. 

Thank you to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending me my copy.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

In search of loving hands- claimed!

Many, many years ago, my mother was crocheting an afghan. For one reason or another, she didn't finish it, but packed it up and tucked it into the back of her closet. Many years (see what I did there? I dropped a "many") later, I have the box again in the forefront of my mind and the floor of my own closet. I would love to finish it, but know that my hands aren't up to it, nor do we have a place for one more afghan in our home. I love the colors she chose: a sort of teal/seafoam green and white, only those two colors, but the squares are a variety of patterns. The squares are almost all completed and there's yarn for those that are missing. Even the hook she used is there. All it lacks are hands to complete it, a heart to love it, and a home to keep it. I would love to give this to someone who could do those things. I'd even send it to you, if you can help me out on postage.

Any takers?

Just to report the afghan is in the loving hands of a friend here in Charleston. :)

Sweet Potatoes: Roasted, Loaded, Fried, and Made Into Pie by Mary-Frances Heck

I was really excited to get this book from Blogging for Books. That my enthusiasm wasn't sustained was more a factor of the dietary restrictions in my household than that of the book. (Two people: one with an allergy to wheat, the other with an allergy to eggs, and has dietary restrictions to dairy, garlic, and onions. Cooking for us is a real treat, she lied.)

Anyhow, there are some delicious looking recipes in here, that, unfortunately, are off limits to us. Others also look great, but require either substitutions of ingredients, or trips to specialty stores. I think the weakest section is the one for main courses, because the sweet potato is usually an ingredient in the dish, not the focus. Nevertheless, I shall persist, and try to adapt some of these to fit our quirky needs.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending a copy my way.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Jane Austen Project: A Novel by Kathleen A. Flynn

I need to stop reading books that try and use Jane Austen as a character. They just don't work for me (with maybe only one exception). Yet despite that track record, I let this one seduce me because it had time travel as part of the plot-- and purposeful time travel from a far distant time in Earth's history. Maybe I was hopeful because if that was true, 45 and the illustrious leader of North Korea weren't successful in destroying life as we know it, and that Mother Nature was no longer on the warpath. I dunno, but whatever demon whispered to me to read this, I shouldn't have listened. Not that it was a bad book. It's just this subject never works for me. I like my Austen served straight up, no added speculations and circumstances. I did not rate this as I finally realized the previous sentence and stopped reading. It's not the author's fault. Honest.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I miss bread. Warm, yeasty, fragrant bread with that soft inside and hard crust that cracks when you bite into it. Bread with fresh butter melting into the pockets and crevices left from the baking. Bread that holds your sandwich fillings, whether it's slightly rare roast beef with a touch of horseradish or garden warm tomatoes and mayo, tucked in among tender lettuce leaf. Bread to sop up a stew with, wiping up the very last drop. An allergy to wheat means that bread, real bread, is no longer on my menu. My body can't process the stuff, and I swell like the Michelin  Man, and can weigh as much as 3 pounds heavier for eating half an English Muffin. But sometimes, that weight gain is worth it, like at The Mill in San Francisco, or if I were to come upon bread made by Lois Clary, from her magical and mysterious sourdough starter in Robin Sloan's Sourdough.
 Set in San Francisco (sallowing me to visit one of my favorite places without taking a 6 hour flight), Sourdough is filled with the real and the imaginary, exploring the world of foodies (as opposed to the also delightful Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by the same author, that delves into the world of book lovers.) One of the things I like about Sloan's book are the odd array of truths thrown into it (like the fact that there is a world-wideLois Club, that I might not have known about, had I not had a good friend named Lois when I was growing up.) It's a slim book, but a good one. And if I happen to look like Bibendum, from a wheat overload, I blame Robin Sloan.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

If music be the food of love...

 IIf you're thinking of sending birthday greetings in a couple of days, how about helping me update my playlist, and recommending a song you love instead. 

Let me know the Title/artist and I'll do the rest. Thanks. A playlist from suggestions made by friends makes my heart happy.

The best way to get your suggestion to me would be to put it here in the comments or email it to me. Other social media might work, but I'm erratic in checking it. (Please do not use the Messenger App. I don't have it.) 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cathedrals Of Glass A Planet Of Blood And Ice by A.J. Hartley

Well done, Mr Hartley. When night fell on Charleston, during Hurricane Irma's visit, and the electricity was out, I picked up my trusty iPad and crashed  into that strange, cold, and dangerous planet Valkrys, along with Sola and her shipmates. The irony of sitting in my 21st century home, curled up with an electronic device, reading about teens from a distant future, whose lives are pretty much spent in a society where the infonet provides all social interactions, and the world is climate controlled did not escape me. I, however, had more than nutritional supplements and protein bars to sustain me while I read. (I believe that even in heaven, I might be able to sip an aperitif and nibble dark chocolate whist I invest myself in a book.)

But back to the book. A group of teens, who have each broken the rules of Home, are sent to a futuristic sort of juvenile detention/rehab center on a nearby moon. Only, the autopilot directed ship deviates from course and crash-lands on a planet nearby that is uninhabited. Or is it?

The group, both diverse and somewhat dysfunctional, with each member declared deviant for unsocial behaviors, must learn to interact, as well as survive. And soon enough, they learn there is danger beyond the frigid planet for them, both outside the ship and inside as well.

Science fiction and thriller, this book gripped me. I only stopped to sleep, and in the morning to find a way to make coffee without electricity. (Luckily, I'm a little handier, and a bit more knowledgeable and prepared than Sola and her shipmates, so that went well.) Don't be fooled by a YA label. This book was a good read. As usual, AJ Hartley does not disappoint.

From the Publisher:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Steeplejack and co-author of Sekret Machines: Chasing Shadows with Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge, comes a "smart, gripping and atmospheric" science fiction thriller—the Cathedrals of Glass saga…

“Deviance is unattractive and jeopardizes all we hold dear…”

Ten teenagers broke behavioral law. Sentenced to be reeducated on the moon of Jerem, they were placed in stasis on the automated ship Phetteron for their six day journey. They never reached their destination.

“Home looks after its own…”

Thrown off course by a computer malfunction, the Phetteron is damaged in an asteroid belt and crash lands on the uninhabited ice planet of Valkrys. Having spent their lives in temperature controlled environments, consuming nutrient supplements, and interacting with people mostly through the infonet, the teens are unprepared to depend on each other to face the harsh, hostile, and hellish landscape. Home will send a rescue party long before their meager supplies run out.

“No contrary positions are viable…”

Sola was a roamer. She wandered the city after curfew, reveling in the freedom of being disconnected from the techgrid and embracing the joy of physical activity. For those actions, Home declared her deviant. But on Valkrys, her deviance is an asset that may be the teens’ only hope for survival.

As Sola explores their strange new world, she discovers that she and her shipmates are linked by something more frightening than their subversive behaviors—and uncovers a truth about the planet the authorities at Home wanted buried.

Valkrys is not uninhabited. And what lives there is predatory…

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee

I knew I'd want something entertaining and slightly mind-distracting to read during Hurricane Irma, and grabbed this off the shelf, mostly for the high ratings and promise of an different sort of love story.(When I first picked up the book looked like Irma was going to make landfall here. It didn't, but we got quite the tropical storm, with some absolutely stellar flooding, thanks to the trifecta of the storm's winds/rain, storm surge, and high tide.) The book both fulfilled and failed my needs. It was interesting, but in no way mindless, opening a dialogue as to what is appropriate in today's world for ages in relationships. For millennium, it's been okay for ancient men to marry near infants, but even in 2017, there is a negative stigma attached to older women dating younger men. (Momentary applause and hat tip to Brigitte Macron, and her husband, Emmanuel. )

So, here's a story where a 39 year old mother takes her 12 year old daughter to see a boy band, and said mother ends up in a steamy relationship with the lead singer. Steaminess aside (and there is some steam in there, lots of fingers, mouths, and other boy and girl bits) Robinne Lee does tackle some of the issues of divergent age in a relationship. It helps that the guy is both mature intellectually and emotionally, and that the gal has not been sitting on the couch eating chips and slugging back beer, but even so, the problems and concerns the characters have are realistic-- one that even chic, beautiful gallery owners and stunningly handsome boy band musicians might have. Add in the public factor of his chosen career, and the emotional maturity of boy band followers, and the thick plottens, so to speak.  It's unconventional, all the way through, even the end.

Not a bad read for a stormy day, when your building is completely surrounded by water, the power is out, and the winds are howling.

From the publisher:
When Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of a prestigious art gallery in Los Angeles, takes her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band, she does so reluctantly and at her ex-husband’s request. The last thing she expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s disparate worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways. And for Solène, it is as much a reclaiming of self, as it is a rediscovery of happiness and love. When their romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her new status has impacted not only her life, but the lives of those closest to her.

Friday, September 8, 2017

How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Quite the quirky book, about a quirky boy, who is the odd duck in a quirky intellectual family. I think that part of the reason I didn't engage fully in the book is that I kept forgetting the narrator (eleven year old Isidore, called Dory by his family, when he really longs to be called Izzie) was a boy. Things would happen, and I'd assume the teller was female, and then be brought back suddenly.  It has its moments of humor, mostly brought about by the frailty of human nature, and explored some bleak experiences with a candid hand.  All in all, I liked the book, but just can't join in on the "I loved it" bandwagon.

Many thanks to the publisher and Blogging for books for sending me this copy.

Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn't quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist--she's already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle's Poetics.

Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don't, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them if he doesn't run away from home first.

Isidore's unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

There's obviously a bit of Marvel canon I have missed, but luckily I found this book about a black/Puerto Rican Spiderman, Brooklyn, bad guys, good guys, friends, family, and poetry. And that's a pretty good combo to find.

Many thanks to Kirkus for the review that made me go out and find this book.

From the publisher: "Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you're on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins."

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He's even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he's Spider Man.

But lately, Miles's spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren't meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad's advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can't shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher's lectures on the historical "benefits" of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It's time for Miles to suit up

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas

An advanced reader copy of this came my way about a month after the book came out. I put aside two other books to read it, since this had come courtesy of Library Thing's Early Reader program and it was a new release.

I know there are reviews out there from people who loved it-- that's a bit of a stretch for me, to say love, or to go beyond the 3/5 stars rating I gave it. Some points intending to create tension seemed beleaguered to me as some of the twists and turns seemed telegraphed. But still, it was better than some I've read and a worthy effort for a first novel. (Would someone tell me why there are so many books with 'girl" in the title? Almost as many as the something-or-other's wife or daughter.)


2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, early-review-librarything, everyone-else-liked-it, first-novel-or-book, ok-but-not-great, read, suspense-thriller-mystery

From the  Publisher:
Someone knows where she is…

The old Victorian pier was a thing of beauty until it was allowed to decay. It was where the youth of Oldcliffe-on-Sea would go to hang out. It’s also where twenty-one-year-old Sophie Collier disappeared eighteen years ago.

Francesca Howe, known as Frankie, was Sophie’s best friend, and even now she is haunted by the mystery of what happened to her. When Frankie gets a call from Sophie’s brother, Daniel, informing her that human remains have been found washed up nearby, she immediately wonders if it could be Sophie, and returns to her old hometown to try and find closure. Now an editor at a local newspaper, Daniel believes that Sophie was terrified of someone and that her death was the result of foul play rather than “death by misadventure,” as the police claim.

Daniel arranges a holiday rental for Frankie that overlooks the pier where Sophie disappeared. In the middle of winter and out of season, Frankie feels isolated and unnerved, especially when she is out on the pier late one night and catches a glimpse of a woman who looks like Sophie. Is the pier really haunted, as they joked all those years ago? Could she really be seeing her friend’s ghost? And what actually happened to her best friend all those years ago?

Harrowing, electrifying, and thoroughly compelling, Local Girl Missing showcases once again bestselling author Claire Douglas’ extraordinary storytelling talent.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Great NAdar: The Man Behind the Camera by Adam Begley

The blurb on this book quoted a recent French Biography, "Who doesn't know Nadar?" Well, I didn't. And I thought his accomplishments fascinating: photographer, balloonist, entrepreneur, artist. Nadar did indeed lead a fascinating life, mingled with luminaries of the day, and in his way was the forerunner of the celebrity cult of today. His portraiture included in the book was a plus, enabling me to see some historic figures who have intrigued me. All in all, while the book was interesting, it didn't inthrall me, but I'm glad I read it.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending me this copy.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Racing Destiny by L.R. Barrett-Durham

Though at one point in my life I was enamored of the likes of Rosemary Rogers, and Kathleen Woodiwiss, I rarely intentionally pick up a true romance these days. (ha! See what I did there?) I'll read books that have love stories in them, but that's about as far as I go toward Romance-- unless one is recommended to me.

A few months back, I read (or tried to read) a novel that proclaimed to be a mystery, but delved heavily into what I would call, without hesitation, bad romance. My remarks on the book expressed that, which caught the interest, and greatly amused, a friend of mine, who is both a prolific author and talented artist. She challenged me to read one of her books, and I accepted. Did I mention her name is LR Barret-Durham?

Racing Destiny is indeed a romance, but it is also a science fiction novel, set in an Atlanta of the future. The world the author has created overlays nicely on the Atlanta I know. It is also a world where Hover Craft racing has capture the hearts and imagination of the entire population (enough so that popular racers are recognized wherever they go.) Rayna Jones was born to race, like her father before her. And her arch rival, Draven Prestage, was also born to race, and born to beat Rayna. There's that old sexual tension pre-race, and a steamy bet between the two drivers.  Then Barrett-Durham mixes it up a bit, and steps beyond the usual romance frission, to add some interesting twists and turns to the plot. While I honestly kinda skimmed over the scenes involving passion, and have a pet peeve about the use of the word "sexy" (show me, don't tell me) in any book, the story kept my attention. I liked finding the similarities and differences in my Atlanta and the Atlanta of Racing Destiny. It was a science fiction world, but not so far removed that it became unfamiliar. The writing was clean, fast paced, believable. And I was entirely delighted to see Easter eggs in there from things I know are passions in the writer's own personal life and knowledge base, presented in such a fashion that they were informative without being didactic or out of place. Bottom line? I'm still not a romance fan, but I've already downloaded one of LR Barrett-Durham's fantasy novels to see how she does there. If I like it, there are lots more, because this is one prolific author.

Review from Amazon:
 Author of the International Indie Sensation, The Trust Series, L R Barrett-Durham delves into yet another genre and takes us to heights we never knew imaginable. FOUR SECONDS That’s all that stands between Rayna Jones, and her egocentric arch rival, Draven Prestage, as she competes in the Thirty-Second Annual HoverCup Championship, to defend her title as victor, and to secure her second HoverCup in the most dangerous sport on the planet. Convinced that Rayna’s rookie year victory was only beginner’s luck, Draven is determined to show his saucy little minx of an adversary exactly who is boss. As they're about to hover back out onto the racetrack, they make a private wager. If Rayna wins, Draven takes a season off. If Draven wins, he'll have Rayna at his mercy for an entire week. Rayna has no intention of letting Draven outdistance her, or use her for his plaything. She may only have a four second head start, but for her... it's a lifetime. “L.R. Barrett-Durham switches gears from fantasy to sci-fi adventure with deceptive ease. Her romantic heroes continue to ring true, yet still take us by surprise. Racing Destiny is a stellar achievement.” -- Martin Powell, author of The Halloween Legion™

Monday, August 14, 2017

We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

You know that satisfied feeling you have after reading a book that just pulled you right in? That was me when I finished readingWe are the Ants. There were so many moments where the situation, or the author's way with words just pulled me in and held me close. I'm not a teenage boy, being raised by a single mom. My boyfriend didn't commit suicide. I'm not having a rough time at school. My brother and his girlfriend aren't expecting a baby. My grandmother isn't losing her memories. I'm not periodically being abducted by aliens. It's not up to me to save the world. But dammit-- I was right there with Henry, every step of the way.

And lest you think I'm kidding about the way I got sucked into the words on the page, try this one on for size:
 "Dreams are hopeful because they exist as pure possibility. Unlike memories, which are fossils, long dead and buried deep."

I'm definitely going to look for more by this author.

From the publisher:
There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (2014)

I really enjoyed this book. It's one I found on a book exchange shelf, and consider myself lucky to have done so. It's a wonderful blend of story, myth, and folk-lore, weaving the three elements together pretty seamlessly. It's written for the younger set, but be forewarned that the bogeyman is real, and there could be some scary, which also has plusses for many. But the best part? At the end of the book, is an author's note, explaining that the idea from the story, and various bits and bobs within, came from a diary kept by her great-great-grandmother. How cool is that? Preus includes more notes from the diary, a photo of her great-great-grands, as well as some sketches. There's also a section with some further information on elements in the story, a glossary, and bibliography. My bookish heart is happy.

From the publisher:
Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the malevolent “goatman” in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.

Brief thoughts on Into The Water, by Paula Hawkins

Well, Paula Hawkins can write. This is the second of her books I've read and while in didn't grab me by the throat and not let go the way her first did, it was still engaging. (The first was The Girl on the Train; I didn't see the movie.) The story was told from multiple points of view, which, for me, was a bit cumbersome, because I find it less easy to flip back to review who is who on an e-book than in a book-book. Still, it told its tale well enough, even if perhaps a tad transparent at times.

From the publisher:
A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.