Friday, September 30, 2016

77:120 Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger

Lady Preshea Villentia is a highly trained spy and assassin and also a widow 4 times over which has earned her the nickname "The Mourning Star".  She is now set up to live her life as she pleases, being no longer under any obligation to anyone but when Lord Akledama invites her to a secret meeting, she realizes she is bored and the task of keeping a Duke safe while under the guise of working for him to break up the relationship between his daughter and an unsuitable suitor seems like just the thing.  She wasn't counting on a Scottish soldier to truly enliven things for her.

Set in the world of Ms. Carriger's Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series, Preshea is a character from the Finishing School who always said that she was more interested in murdering her husbands than cohabiting nicely with them.  It seems that what she really needed was someone who knew her worth and was content with any affection she choose to show him.  The courtship was sweet and the book a fun, fluffy read.

Page count: 150p/20,817p ytd/269,967p lifetime

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

76:120 A History of US: The First Americans by Joy Hakim

This is now my third time reading this history book.  Here's my previous review:

Book 1 in the History of Us series which we are using for 5th & 8th grade US History.  It's a two year course so I'll be working on these for a while.  Honestly, I'm not overly thrilled with the series.  It's very jumpy in it's telling and the language isn't as engaging as I was hoping for.  8th grader loved it in 5th grade but hates it now.  I can see why.  It's working well for the 5th grader tho with the super short chapters.  So long as it's working, we'll stick with it but I was so hoping for something more engaging like the Oxford series we did for middle school Ancient History.

Well, having a year break from the lovely Oxford series and trying to read high school history while reading this along with a having a child who is enjoying it makes it seem better than this.  I think it is a decent history curriculum for the 5-6th graders, short chapters and a bit of engaging "let's pretend" thing going on, but it definitely will suffer in comparison to other, stronger texts.  Still better than high school history courses in general though since it dives deeper.

Page count: 183p/20,667p ytd/269,817p lifetime

Thursday, September 22, 2016

New Releases I'm Looking Forward To: 4th Quarter 2016

My usual disclaimer:
Let me state, this is really based on authors or series that I'm already reading since those are the things I follow.  I'm not paid to write this blog nor do I have any affiliations with any publishers so I don't receive free books or advance notice of things except what I glean off Facebook from people who do have those contacts or what I research on my own (which again, leads back to authors that I'm already reading).  Maybe someday I'll be one of those who has the contacts and gets ARCs but it's not today.

So I'm not entirely sure where the heck July and August went but they certainly did not contain much in the way of reading and so I'm staring down the fourth quarter of the year over 10 books behind pace to make my goal, 5 books behind my new author goal, and about 10,000 pages behind that goal.  So yeah, I seriously need to get reading done in the next few months.  At least I shouldn't be seeing my To Read pile growing crazily as there are only a few books coming out this quarter that I will definitely be picking up.

The first is Otherworld Chills by Kelley Armstrong.  This is the last of the promised trilogy of short stories and novellas that was promised in her Otherworld series.  Apparently this one wraps up several of the story lines that were not fully resolved.  I can only hope she will continue to play in this world moving forward as while I enjoy her other work, I really really enjoy this universe and the characters in it.

Release Date: October 4

Shadowed Souls is an anthology of stories where things are not always as black and white as they appear.  It contains stories from Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff, and several others I'm not as familiar with but looks to be a fun read.

Release Date: November 1

Also being released that day is Curse on the Land by Faith Hunter.  This is the second of the Soulwood books that are set in the Jane Yellowrock series but follow Nell and the PsyLED team.  This takes place after Nell has completed her training.  She returns home only to find that the land itself is sick and evil is spreading.  I am a book behind in the Jane Yellowrock series and haven't gotten to the first book in this series but considering how much I like her work in this universe, I will definitely be picking it up.

Release Date: November 1

I haven't fully made up my mind about The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.  The first book was ok but not spectacular and had many issues.  My book club read it (my pick) and several people had more issues with it than I did but several others seemed to enjoy it but also expressed issues with the writing and such that I did.  Two people went on to read the second book, one was enjoying it and the other actually gave up half way through.  Based on this, I think I'm going to read the second book before deciding whether or not to buy this one.  It does sound from the description that things will get wrapped up which is not surprising since it's a planned trilogy which is one good thing and I do like to see things finished but it really depends on if the writing gets better in the second.

Release Date: November 29

So just four books and one of those is a maybe.  Hopefully this means I can get some of the other reading caught up but the way the school reading is going this year, that may just be a pretty dream.  We shall see.

75:120 The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Book 1 of the Queen of the Tearling trilogy.  Kelsea has spent the first 19 years of her life in the care of a married couple whose job was to raise her to take the throne upon her coming of age.  Her mother died when Kelsea was young and her uncle has been the Regent ever since.  The country has been in despair almost her entire life as the Regent cares more about his comfort than the people and they are basically enslaved by a treaty to their neighbor, Mortmense, ruled by the Red Queen for the past 100 years. Now that Kelsea has reached her majority, the Queen's Guard has come to take her to be the Queen.  However, her uncle has been searching for her to kill her for her entire life and the odds are not in her favor of ever getting her crown, much less living long enough to do anything with it.  In spite of those odds, the Guards execute a plan and get her to the castle and a crown placed upon  her head. Her first act was to stop the tribute of thousands of people being sent to Mortmense as slaves every month and now she must try to prepare her country for an invasion from an insurmountable enemy that she has just kicked in the face.  To top it all off, she has enemies in her own country that would prefer things to go back to the way they were.

So where to start on my opinions of this book.  Hearing that Emma Watson had been cast as Kelsea and all the praise and good reviews as well as being a lover of fantasy in general made me extremely hopeful for the book.  Unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations.

First the bad.  Kelsea didn't read as fully believable.  She was isolated for 19 yrs but somehow knew how to read people completely but yet seemed to have no concept of decorum, palace management, diplomacy, history of her people, or a number of other things potential rulers are generally schooled in.  She goes back and forth between knowing and understanding tons of things seemingly instinctively and then having no clue about similar things.  She constantly bemoans the fact that she isn't pretty enough.  Her thoughts and moods swing wildly but yet manage to be somehow monotonous. Some of the other characters are a bit more balanced but none have much in the way of depth and there is definitely character growth lacking.  The villain is suitably mysterious but other than being incredibly cruel doesn't really seem to even know why she cares about taking over Kelsea's country.  When after almost 20 years she hasn't been able to find and kill Kelsea, she finally reveals that she has some sort of demon that is in charge of her and he doesn't want Kelsea harmed.  No reason given.  So why has this been a thing then?

The fact that this story is apparently set on Earth in the future but with a medieval feel with hints at some great catastrophe that has reduced technology backwards hundreds of years could be a set-up for something really interesting.  It's an interesting way of world building but I still found it jarring to hear references from nowhere to modern things.  It kind of brought me out of the world and the story that was being told.

For all that, I think there were some interesting things being hinted at and I hope that they start to come to light in the next book.  I think a better editor could have pulled this book together better and made it more cohesive.  It's a first book and I think it really shows in places.  Potential is there but execution lacks.  I have the second book in the series here so I'm going to give it a try and then decide if I care enough to finish the trilogy.

Page count: 434p/20,484p ytd/269,634p lifetime

Sunday, September 18, 2016

74:120 Once Upon a Curse: 17 Dark Fairy Tales by various authors

17 Fairy Tales that take a much darker tone, more in keeping with the original cautionary tales that Fairy Tales once were than the Disneyfied versions we tend to be more familiar with.  Tales include Alice in Wonderland as a lonely princess with psychological problems, an even darker Snow Queen, the Devil falling in love after a bargain is stuck, and many more.  As in any collection of stories by different authors, I enjoyed some more than others and one or two just fell flat for me.

Page count: 360p/20,050p ytd/269,200p lifetime

Friday, September 16, 2016

73:120 The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

The 2nd book in the Dark is Rising sequence (but apparently the first one is more of a prequel so...)

Will Stanton's 11th birthday is approaching and strange things are happening all around him.  He is given strange gifts and is starting to see things that others are not.   Finally, on Midwinter Day and his actual birthday day, he discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals who are dedicated to keeping the Dark at bay.  Not only is he to be the last one born but he is The Seeker, the one who will find and unite the Signs that will help to drive the Darkness back in the final battle between Dark and Light.

Interesting take on the standard good vs evil troupe and well done.  I like that the Light is more nuanced than the typical "good" side and will do things that they know will hurt others and have longer reaching consequences because it's the only way they can see to get the outcome in the end but even so, one thing they believe strongly in is free will and individual choice.  That does seem to be something that is more shadowed rather than stated outloud in the genre and I like that even when it came down to someone's death, they honored that person's decision to embrace death.  A powerful message for children of how important choice can be.

Page count: 244p/19,690p ytd/268,840 lifetime

Thursday, September 15, 2016

72:120 The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Ok, I'm going with the assumption that if you haven't been shut in a closet your entire life that you know the basic premise of this story.  Young girl gets flown to a magical land called Oz via a tornado and spends the rest of the book trying to get back home.  On the way she makes new friends: Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion.  The Wizard of Oz promises to help her if she brings back the silver cap of the Wicked Witch of the East.  She does, he doesn't, she finds out she has had the power to go home the whole time.

So it's a fairly simple tale but the magic is in the world building.  The characters aren't particularly deep or complex and you don't see an extraordinary amount of character growth or development.  Dorothy is a sweet, simple girl and just happens to have an incredible amount of luck on her side to survive everything that happens to her.  The other characters are similarly simple with the only exception being the total contradictory nature of the Tin Woodman who is terrified of stepping on an ant but has no problem using his ax to chop down beasts that he feels may be dangerous before finding out if they actually are.  I was reading this to my 10yr old and this hypocritical actions really mad an impact on him.  Every time it came up, he commented on it and was upset.  Not because of the violence of it but because it wasn't f-a-i-r!  It led to some good discussions and he enjoyed the world enough that we have started book 2 so we shall see where this goes.

Page count: 267p/19,446p ytd/268,596p lifetime

Sunday, September 11, 2016

71:120 Full of Briars by Seanan McGuire

A novella told by Toby's squire, Quentin, between Chimes at Midnight and The Winter Long.

Quentin's parents, the High King and Queen of the Westlands, are coming to the Kingdom of the Mists for a visit.  Ostensibly it is for the coronation of the new Queen but both Toby and Quentin realize that they are really coming because Quentin has outed himself as their son and invalidated his blind fosterage.  What neither of them know is what this will mean.  They are within their rights to recall their son home but Quentin doesn't want to leave.  San Francisco and the people there have become his home.  Now how can he convince them to let him stay..

It has been nice watching Quentin grow through the series and watching him with his parents was wonderful.

Page count: 44p/19,179p ytd/268,329p lifetime

Thursday, September 8, 2016

70:120 Unwanted by Jennifer Estep

Novella set in the Elemental Assassin world from Finn's POV right after Bitter Bite.

Finn screwed up royally and a lot of people, good people, are dead now because of it.  He wanted to badly to believe that his mother was a good and wonderful person that he was blinded to what she really was and refused to listen to Gin or his other friends as they tried to warn him. Now he is having to live with the guilt and the desire to make amends to people who want nothing to do with him.  One of them is the widow of one of the guards his mother killed.  His boss is making him attend all the funerals and in the course of things, Finn finds out that that the widow's BIL owes money to a very bad man who will not hesitate to take it out on her and her son.  Now that at least is a problem that Finn is capable of dealing with.

It was nice to get a story from Finn as he deals with the aftermath of the last book.  Going straight back to another Gin story without dealing with Finn's emotional state would have been a disservice to that character.  I will even go so far as to give a slight pass on the constant repetitive inner dialog but only a slight one.  I felt like it was more in keeping with what he was going through but even with that, I would have to say that probably 20% of the novella is him rehashing the same thing over and over again and the wording on it is barely changed.  I would probably not have been bothered by it at all if it weren't for the fact that this is a consistent problem with Ms. Estep's writing and generally to the detriment of the story's pacing.  I gave up one of her series because of it and refuse to try any of her others at this point because of it and only stick with this series because the world is quite intriguing.

Page count: 100p/19,135p ytd/268,285p lifetime

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

69:120 Lawful Interception by Cory Doctorow

A short story that serves as a follow-up to Little Brother and Homeland.  Marcus and Ange are in Oakland when a huge earthquake hits and devastation follows.  They help out and end up falling in with the Occupy Senaca group to help those who are being lost in the system.  Of course, powers that be don't like the Occupy group and work with the city government to shut it down.  Marcus and his friends are not about to let this happen and get in on the demonstrations and with the help of some new technology he comes up, are able to find a way to outsmart them

In all, this was a good follow-up story that does work as a standalone if needed. It was pretty basic and kept to the same plotlines of the books.  I found the description of democracies interesting and the idea of fluid democracy intriguing.

Page count: 51p/19,035p ytd/268,185p lifetime

68:120 A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Read for 10th grade English which means I get to read it a total of four times.  Here is my review from September 2009:

<i>A story of growing up in a boys school during WWII, we follow Gene and his struggles with his friendship with Finny.  We find in Finny, an intense character who seems to have little insight but is long on charisma and energy.  His perceptions of the world are shallow but at the end we see that it was only by making things fit in his perception that kept him from fearing the unknown.  Gene finds it impossible to have his own will when in the presence of Finny and much of the story is Gene's figuring out how to deal with his relationship with Finny, trying to categorize it and create reasons for Finny's behavior that are mostly only in his own head.  When at last he breaks free of Finny, albeit unconsciously, it is with dramatic consequences.

I liked the pace of the book in that it was neither too slow to be plodding nor too quick so that it lost it's believability.  An easy read on the surface with a lot of deeper undertones.</i>

Page count: 204p/18,984p ytd/268,134p lifetime