Today's Grateful List/12 April 2014

  • Just being happy
  • Good buddies to build a group with
  • My porch swing
  • Reading outside again
  • A gorgeous, beautiful, wonderful spring day!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thank the Flea!

I actually finished this book a couple of weeks ago and am just now clarifying my feelings on it. On one hand, I loved the interaction of the key characters I've grown to love, but on the other, there were a few things that bugged me so much I needed time to think whether or not I truly enjoyed it. So here's what I thought, and take it from the point of view of someone who truly loves Snyder's writing and stories.

The story picks up with Avry and Kerrick still in battle against evil in several forms, but mostly against Tohon. It doesn't take long for the pair to become separated again, however, and that's a problem in more than one way. Avry has to decide how she can best serve the battle and that means continuing on after she's searched for Kerrick; Kerrick, meanwhile, has the forest to thank for his healing but it's got a very large condition...he can no longer leave without severe consequences. By the time the two meet up again, there's been a shift in who is the most evil with the Skeleton King pretty much taking the crown for that dubious title. There's more travel, a friend or two is found, and there is torture and illness. It's not really a lot of fun, but it makes sense as far as the storyline goes.

I found the bits with the well-documented torture to be the hardest to read and almost stomach-turning at times. That's not a huge deal, however, because there is indeed a war going on. I suppose my biggest issue is with the ending, so read no further if you want to avoid spoilerage.

I just felt that too much was left hanging. Sure, the main two bad guys were taken down, but what about Cellina? Is she going to remain a threat or will she fade off into the sunset as was implied? I also didn't like not seeing the resolution to Kerrick's situation, even if Avry did explain it. I also felt deprived of the actual scene where Avry emerges from the Lily. In truth, most of the ending felt rushed and not well-tied up. Maybe there's another book coming? It's really hard to tell, though it *seemed* as though it was the final in the trilogy.

But there's still a lot to love, including the monkeys, the relationships, and the fighting. I simply love saying "Thank the Flea!" now, and overall, I suppose I'm satisfied. I'd actually give this one a 3.5, but my enjoyment of the series rounds it up to 4.


Saturday, March 08, 2014

While I'm Reading Stuff

This stuff is just fascinating to me. I HATE that so many of the gorgeous buildings in these photos are gone.

Thanks to Heather of Capricious Reader for the link to this wonderful video and article.

Oklahoma City Time Capsule Photos


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fallen Beauty (Read This One. I Mean It.)

Basic synopsis: Laura is a young woman whose youthful indiscretion results in the birth of her daughter in the narrow-minded town where she grew up. It is 1928 and the birth provokes the loss of most of her seamstress business, though her sister Marie remains her faithful companion. Not far away, the poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay lives with her husband Eugen, giving wild, uninhibited parties and flaunting her bohemian lifestyle to the shock and horror of the townspeople. Though Laura tries to avoid Millay when she asks for a new wardrobe for her upcoming reading tour, with finances tight and her curiosity piqued, Laura succumbs and in the process learns more about herself than she'd dared.

Now for the truth: I wasn't at all sure I'd become a fan of this novel until I was more than halfway through. Laura's refusal to name her lover drove me crazy at first, knowing there would be a big, shocking reveal later that I assumed wouldn't be all that shocking (and I was so wrong on this count). But as the story moved along, Laura's morals and fortitude wore away at my hesitance; I found that not only did I like her, I also championed her because of her denial to give into the town bullies. Laura's deep love for her child is a constant throughout the story, and her growth, mostly at the behest of taking care of the child, elevates her character from sad pariah to determined architect of her own future. Laura's a part of me now, and for that alone I would give this book 5 solid stars.

The biggest issue I had with Fallen Beauty lies with the portrayal of Millay, though I assume it's a mostly factual telling. Millay is not a sympathetic character beyond the fact that she may have had some emotional disturbance. Her treatment of her long-suffering husband, her insistence on being the center of the universe, her complete disregard for how her actions impacted others all add up to a woman who, while brilliant, was not likable at all. I don't believe the author intended her to be so, however; I do think she wanted to show a side of Millay that, despite her selfish reasons, helped another to find her backbone. Other than that, I spent most of the novel wanting to slap Millay for her whims and utter narcissism, and if that was the aim of the author, she succeeded brilliantly.

Mostly, however, this story is Laura's: Her refusal to give in, her desperation to take care of her child, her sense of wonder which could never be completely extinguished. When the climax of the story is reached, it is gripping and emotionally impactful for all. I was taken in by the transformation of spirit and the accepting nature of Laura, which stood in contrast to the vapid Millay, who still provides Laura with the missing element of her life: forgiveness. This novel is well written and totally, wholly encompassing.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Lost Lake

One thing is for certain: Sarah Addison Allen knows how to tell a story. So much so, that even when you know where you are headed, you are sucked in and absorbed as if you had no clue.

Lost Lake, the author's fifth book, is the story of Kate, who has lost her young husband to an accident, and her daughter, Devin. Kate has allowed herself a year to be "asleep": she's gone through the motions but wasn't entirely aware of anything. But just as she's about to move into her mother-in-law's home, Kate takes Devin on a totally random trip to visit her Great Aunt Eby, who owns a run down camp in Florida. Upon arrival, they discover that Eby is about to sell the camp, and this is the one last fling for her regular three campers and Eby's friend Lisette. Allowing themselves to be taken in by the atmosphere and sense of belonging, Kate and Devin come to realize that they cannot allow the direction they've been taking in life, especially once Kate is reunited with childhood love Wes. Add in a magical alligator and an attempt to overcome a childhood tragedy, and you have the gist of a story that is so much more than that.

Lost Lake is filled with little gems of wisdom and the sense of finding yourself, no matter your age or circumstances. There is a backstory to Eby that's fascinating (even if I didn't especially care for Lisette's dependence upon her friend). I adore the magical elements, which are just enough that you can believe that they might actually be true. The stories of Selma and Bulahdeen, two of the regular campers, add to the tale in that it's clear that no matter what your age, it's not too late to find friends and be useful. But this is mostly Kate's tale of coming back to life, and it's here that the story really shines. Devin is a delight and Kate finding her backbone is the best part.

I'm convinced that Sarah Addison Allen could write the phone book and I'd find it fascinating. This story is a wonderful tale of hope and love and I highly recommend it.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

A Quickie…Good Children's Lit!

Young Lydia's life is turned upside down when she unexpectedly loses both her parents and her baby sister to the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1918. Going from a loving household to her uncle's overcrowded farm seems bad enough, but when it becomes apparent that her aunt does not welcome either Lydia or her brother Daniel, they are sent to live at the local Shaker settlement. Along with her sadness over losing her home, there's the trepidation of not knowing anyone and the feeling of if she will like her new home. All of these emotions play out in the journal Lydia keeps where she records her daily activities.

Like a Willow Tree is a very well written look at the losses a young girl faced after the devastation of the Spanish influenza epidemic and also a worthwhile glimpse into the daily life of the Shaker religion. Prior to reading this novel, I knew very little about the actual religious practices of Shakers; this novel shares those by using real life leaders of the movement, interweaving them into the life of Lydia. While at times the style of writing is very old-fashioned and stiff, it is still indicative of the time Lydia would've been alive as a young girl trying to find her way. This is an enjoyable snapshot of a time in history which very few people know much about. Recommended.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Flame is the thrilling conclusion to Amy Kathleen Ryan's Sky Chasers series that began with Glow and continued with Spark. And what an excellent conclusion it is! We get resolution to all the stories, unexpected twists and turns, and hope and despair in equal measure. I was up way past my bedtime finishing this one and I'm really sad it's over.

Flame begins with Waverly going back to the New Horizon after the explosion on the Empyrean. She really has no choice; she must rely on her nemesis Anne Mather and hope that there will be mercy even as she despises everything that's happened. She doesn't know that Seth has escaped to the New Horizon as well, and she is kept under guard. It doesn't take long before both Waverly and Kieran become pawns in a power struggle and it's equally clear that no one cares what really happens to either of them. Meanwhile, Seth roams the ship trying to learn more and get to Waverly, but even that has its issues, as he develops a major infection in his broken hand and his actions are questioned by the very person he most wants to save.

There's so much more going on in this novel that it's difficult to express it all in one little review. The main thing I came away with was the plethora of emotion experienced while reading. This may be a young adult book, but I was dragged through a morass of depression, hope, deceit, desperation, relief, uncertainty, delirium, name it, it's there in spades. Waverly becomes so beaten down that my heart hurt for her; Seth's determination made me fear for his life more than once. Just when I thought I had it figured out, Ryan took us in a new direction that had me upset and turning the pages to see what happened next. There are disgusting people and situations, and there are tender moments that balance the story beautifully. There's lots of action, and yet there's lots of introspection as well. This book, quite simply, has it all. A brilliant ending to an exciting trilogy.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Simply One of the Best

Elizabeth Chadwick's The Summer Queen is the first in a planned trilogy on Alienor of Aquitaine (popularly known as Eleanor), and having just finished it, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for this novel. I always love Chadwick's books, but I sort of wondered what else could be added to the story to make it more engaging. It's my pleasure to say that not only does this novel deliver, it does so beautifully, bringing life to characters and events in vivid detail. I'm blown away.

The Summer Queen takes us through the years Alienor was married to Louis of France and into the first blush of her marriage with Henry of England. Alienor, duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, finds herself continually putting her own feelings and needs aside as her overly pious first husband disappoints her again and again. Chadwick takes us through it all: the births of unwelcome daughters, the arduous Crusade, the loss of freedom, and the desperation to end an untenable marriage. Alienor often follows her heart, and she's not written as a saint by any means. What does come through is her indomitable spirit and her determination to protect and advance Aquitaine at any cost. It's evident that Alienor is a passionate woman strapped to a man who becomes more priggish and overbearing as the years pass, and it's easy to see how she felt when first encountering young Henry, the polar opposite of puckered Louis. Part of me wanted to yell at her, to warn her of what's ahead, but most of me just wanted to luxuriate alongside her while she's enjoying herself.

There simply aren't enough words for me to express how much I enjoyed this novel; knowing it would be good because it was by Chadwick, I had no idea I'd become thoroughly engrossed as I was. I even found myself slowing down in my reading just so I could spend more time inside the world brought to life. Alienor's motivations for her actions and her strongly held emotions are vibrantly brought to life against a background where the Church was all and women were expected to do as they were told. If it's possible, Alienor is even more of a personal heroine for me now after having read Chadwick's excellent novel. Highly recommended.


Monday, January 06, 2014

A Reading Roll!

I took advantage of a "cold" day and finished off another short book that I had lying around here. I'm pretty darned excited about my reading roll so far! Fingers crossed it's not a fluke.  Here's the review:

Even though I am very familiar with the Tudor period, I was surprised at the amount of historical information packed into this young adult novel about Anne Boleyn. Told from the perspective of Elinor Valjean, maid to first Queen Catherine of Aragon and then to Anne Boleyn, we see the rise and fall of one of history's most notorious women, and it's not a very flattering light in which she's cast. 

Elinor makes no bones about her feelings for Anne; she's on Catherine's side and only serves Anne because Anne likes her (presumably for her  musical abilities). Opposed to Anne from the get-go, there's seldom a nice word said about her in this "diary" that Elinor keeps. While Elinor herself grows up and marries, she keeps her gaze on both the wicked Anne and the saintly Catherine (through her mother's and sister's continued employ in Catherine's household). Elinor reports mostly on the major events of the times, and only toward the end does her opinion of Anne alter as she watches the queen face her accusers and death with dignity. 

This book is highly readable, cut into easily digestible, sporadic diary entries. If Elinor is very opposed to Anne, that can be forgiven as the book is seen through her eyes. I did grow a bit weary of her continued reinforcement of the stereotypes of both Anne and Henry, and this really doesn't offer new take on the story. Still, it would be a good entry into history for a young adult as it does tell the tale from a generally interesting viewpoint. 


Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Quickie (No, not that kind)

Spy Smuggler: My Story is told through the eyes of 13/14 year old Paul, whose father was killed while opposing the German occupation of France. Paul is desperate to show his disdain for the Germans, and is disgusted that his uncle Maurice seems to do his best to stay on the friendly side of them. When Paul rebels against his teacher who supports Hitler, he finds himself behind bars, facing a very real threat on his life. But fate intervenes, and Paul's uncle rescues him...and then recruits him to join the Resistance, with whom he has been covertly working for years. Paul jumps at the chance, even though it will place him in harm's way and may even get him killed.

This is a very fast read, probably most suitable for those reading on grades 4-8 levels. Paul is not always the nicest kid around, but he is very realistic, and definitely committed to the cause. The glimpse of what a young man fighting for French freedom during World War II is well written and vivid, and the inclusion of a timeline at the end is quite welcome. There are actual photographs included as well. While not high literature, it's evident the author has done his research and this would be a good inclusion in a unit on the history of the Second World War.


First Book of the New Year

Heather Wells should be in the final stages of planning her wedding to private investigator Cooper Cartwright, but the beginning of the semester brings all sorts of problems at Fischer Hall, where she is assistant residence hall director. Moving freshmen in usually involves issues, but when a new student happens to be a prince, there's bound to be trouble. Oh, and one of the resident assistants turns up dead...Yeah, the wedding may have to take a back seat.

Heather is a fun, real character whose antics and thoughts are often enough to make me laugh out loud. The relationship she has with her boyfriend is both sweet and mutually supportive, and her friends all have unique personalities that bring life to the story. There isn't a very deep mystery here; in fact, Heather gets sidetracked early on by a noisy rebellion of some fired resident assistants, as well as the situation with the prince and assorted other issues. And really, the mystery's not the point; Heather's so busy looking forward to her wedding and deciphering the problems that that much alone would be enough. To be honest, the mystery was only of interest to me in seeing how Heather would deal with it.

I'm not sure if this is the final book in the series, but it definitely has the hallmarks of being so; Heather's mother finally makes an appearance, and despite everything, the wedding day approaches with all the technicalities usual to such a date. If it is the last in the series, it's a good one; if not, I'll be more than happy to see where Heather goes next.