Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Saturday, February 25, 2012


This one's going to stay with me for a very long time. I already know this because the images from Pure by Julianna Baggott are seared into my mind--wildly disturbing, absorbing, imaginative, freakish. This is a dystopian unlike most others out there, and I'm hooked.

Pure is the story of almost sixteen year old Pressia, who has lived for the nine years since the world ending/changing Detonations with her grandfather in a small barbershop in what's left of America. Those who survived the Detonations were fused to whatever they happened to be touching at the moment the bright light exploded, so Pressia's right hand is now the head of the baby doll she was holding and her grandfather has a small fan stuck in his throat. The two have been foraging for their lives, knowing that when Pressia turns sixteen, the dreaded OSR soldiers will be coming for her (for whatever purpose they deem). It is this knowledge that leads Pressia to Bradwell, a fellow survivor with birds actually living in his back, and ultimately to El Capitan, an OSR officer whose younger brother has fused to him. Meanwhile, there are a select few who have survived unscathed--Pure--in the Dome; Partridge, son of one of the leaders, feels certain his mother survived the Detonations outside the Dome and he becomes determined to find her, even if it means leaving his sanctuary. All of these lives intersect, combine, and impact one another throughout the most vivid landscape and people I've read about in quite a while.

Pure is not without its faults; its present tense writing annoys and the improbability of people fusing to items as varied as animals, metal, plastic, and land kept nagging me. Still, if you put aside the illogic, this is a story whose characters are truly the stars. Pressia is a flawed heroine whose loyalty ties her to people and places that may not be the best, but she is a determined, tortured soul. Partridge's escape and his focus on finding his family leads to layers of backstory being exposed, and while most of it is predictable, it's still exciting and fresh. El Capitan and Helmud are going to haunt me for a long time, with their shared body being both burden and sacrifice. In fact, there's not one character anywhere to be found whom I will be able to forget: Illia, the wife covered in a full body skin stocking, the Dust which lies in wait to capture unsuspecting humans for consumption, the Good Mother who demands a tall sacrifice from the Pure Partridge. All so vividly writtenly that my mind's eye has them literally fused inside my head.

This is a unique story and one I can recommend to those who like dystopias, but don't go into it thinking there is going to be a huge romance or an easy path. By the time this trilogy is done, I wouldn't be surprised to see Pressia and her friends as leaders of the Dome or as dead legacies. It could definitely go either way, but I know it's going to be interesting. This one's actually a strong 4.5 stars, marked down only because of the totally unnecessary use of present-tense. I'm going to be waiting anxiously for the next in the series.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Watch That Ends the Night

I actually read The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf a few months ago for the Historical Novel Society. Since the review has been published now, I'm safe to post it here...and I must say that this is one book NOT TO BE MISSED. It is beyond awesome, told in verse, and one to savor.  Below is the actual review:

Simply put, The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf is one of the best books I've read all year. Written in verse, it is the story of the Titanic from its launch to its sinking, told in twenty four different voices, including those of third class passengers, first class passengers, crew, and even the iceberg. We learn of the hopes of young third class teens, the desperation of a second class father, the con artist in first class, the valiant musicians, and the new Marconi wireman, plus many more; with the exception of only one, all were real passengers aboard the ship, and all were changed forever when destiny met a silent, waiting iceberg in the dark of the ocean.

Creative and captivating, Mr. Wolf keeps the action steady as the stories of the passengers race toward a struggle with life and death. I was equally enthralled with young Frankie Goldsmith's ice dragon adventures as I was with Captain Smith's realization that this final voyage would not be to his anticipated retirement. Wolf's research is detectable in all his details, and this Titanic buff was pleased to read his illuminating author's note in the final pages. I could easily have inhaled this novel in one long breath, but I made myself savor each word, right down to the lines falling off the pages as Thomas Andrews takes his final plunge with the ship. As 2012 is the centenary of the sinking of the great ship, there will doubtless be lots of information and many books available, but this one should definitely be the one literature and history lovers should seek out. Highly, highly recommended.

Thanks to the Historical Novel Society for providing me with a copy of this wonderful novel.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snuck in a Titanic Book

Iceberg Right Ahead! may be aimed mostly at children (specifically ages 8-12), but it is a wonderful addition to any Titanic buff's collection. Author Stephanie Sammartino McPherson follows the story of the creation of the great ship right through its most recent developments and what a journey it is! Illustrated beautifully throughout with photographs and recreations of drawings and paintings, the doomed liner is brought to life through detailed accounts of survivors and careful research. Ms. McPherson adds lots of facts about how debate has arisen over the exact way the Titanic sank, and she doesn't shy away from the less savory aspects and people (including how J. Bruce Ismay was derided for leaving the dying ship). I particularly enjoyed the stories of what happened to some of the survivors, including many of the officers.

There really isn't anything too terribly revealing or new in Iceberg Right Ahead! and yet it's incredibly absorbing. At just over 100 pages, it is chock full of anecdotes and trivia and interviews, written in such a way that a younger reader will get the essence of what happened and yet still engage any older reader (like me) who loves to read anything and everything Titanic. It's fairly comprehensive in its telling, and even describes the debate about the retrieved artifacts. For those looking to learn as much as possible as the centenary of the sinking approaches, this gem is a good place to add to their knowledge. Recommended.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I am not sure where to start in reviewing this book. It's a biography but that is putting a label on it that is limiting because it is so, so much more than that. World War II story? Yes, it is that. Overcoming adversity story? Absolutely. Inspiring tale? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. And yet all of those descriptors still don't do it justice.

Unbroken is the story of Louie Zamperini, a runner who made it to the 1936 Olympics despite himself. Louie was a bit of a wild child growing up, and even once he dedicated himself to his running, he had to work to keep his effervescence in check. At uncertain odds after the Olympics, Louie joins the Army Air Force, washes out, and then finds himself back aboard when World War II calls. He is stationed in Hawaii where he sees combat, often losing friends and colleagues to the reality of war. But it is once his own plane goes down over the Pacific that the real story begins: Louie and two other men find themselves adrift on the ocean in nothing but a life raft with almost no resources. Their experiences are something out of a horror movie, and it is only just beginning to get bad when the men are captured by the Japanese after nearly 6 weeks. The stories of Louie's and the other POW's inhumane treatment as captives of the Japanese are too horrible to imagine, with many not making it out alive. So why Louie? Why should he survive the carnage, the brutality, the deprivation?

There is so, so much more that could be said about this unbelievable story, and I am convinced that others have stated its worth much more eloquently than I could. Looking at this book from a writing standpoint, I don't think the story could have been told in a more compelling way; Ms. Hillenbrand did her research and brings the life of Louie Zamperini alive with her words. I found myself thinking about this book all the time while reading it, asking others if they had read it and sharing how profoundly it has affected me with anyone who will listen. The incredible journey Louie faced, not just through his POW years but beyond, has left me reeling with the ability of a human spirit to recover from unimaginable evil. I will treasure this book and continue to refer to it, especially when my own life takes its trivial downturns. I just cannot recommend it highly enough. Read it; savor it; give it to everyone you know. And then do it again.


Monday, February 06, 2012

And Now For the Beauty Queens Review...

Well, well, well...what to say about Libba Bray's young adult novel, Beauty Queens? Tongue-in-cheek? Check. Laugh out loud at times? Check. Teens learning to be themselves? Check. Over the top? CHECK. Different? Oh, heck yeah, CHECK. Interesting? To say the least...check, check, check.

I first picked this novel up back in August and it didn't click at all. The exaggerated stereotypes of Miss Teen Dreamers seemed to be trying too hard and I just couldn't get interested in what these superficial bimbos were doing and saying. But when it started calling to me in late January, I figured it was time to give it another try; like many readers, sometimes it's all about the timing. And this time, it clicked. I was engaged in the stereotypes, the survival, the no time did I ever take this book seriously as it explored humanity, beauty, sexuality, and pirates, but it was FUN. There were moments when I did get a little weary of the undercurrent of "learning to love yourself"-ness running throughout, but as these young women learned they could rely on themselves, I got very attached to them. And even Adina, who seemed to be in the pageant solely to destroy it, came around in a different way, and all of the girls recognized the good, the bad, and the ugly within.

So, yeah, the storyline is goofy but I could totally see this novel working as an Austin Powers type movie. Ms. Bray's wit is laugh out loud funny at times and even a bit poignant. Don't be fooled, though; these girls are open and up front once they get rolling, and nothing is off-limits (and hilariously so). I could have done without the "commercial breaks"--they really didn't add much and were often forced. But I would definitely recommend this very different, very layered book to those with the sense of humor to appreciate it. Don't take it too seriously, build your hut, decorate it, and observe the fun.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

And....It's Clicking!

Ever have a book that, for whatever reason, just fails to click even though you like the premise and even the author?  For me, that book was Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. When I first picked this book up last summer, it *seemed* to be one I'd love--snarky, humorous, young adult--but I only got ten pages or so in before I set it aside. It just wasn't working, and I wasn't interested.

And then...for some reason when I finished my latest read, The Rebel Wife, Beauty Queens started calling to me from its place on the shelf near my bed. Not sure why, but my thoughts kept traveling back to the premise and the fact that Libba Bray wrote a marvelous trilogy (The Gemma Doyle books) that I really enjoyed a few years back. So last night I decided I needed to go back to this over-the-top novel of Miss Teen Dream contestants stranded on an island after a plane crash, and it was obvious within those same first ten pages that this time, it was gonna click. I'm so thrilled--I dislike giving up on a book unless it's terribly dreadful, and I never thought Beauty Queens was that. It was just the wrong book at the wrong time, and for whatever reason, the reading stars have decided that now is the time it's going to work for me.

Have you ever had this happen? Have you ever gone back to a book after giving up and found that now it's going to click? Any theories on why this is? I suspect it's just life--maybe I'd read too many young adult books before and needed a change, or maybe it was my yearlong slump of 2011 or maybe my snark-o-meter was not set high enough. Whatever it is, I'm so glad that I can finally get into this one and get it read and reviewed for Amazon Vine. I'm feeling pretty darned pleased with myself...and with Beauty Queens.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Rebel Wife

Not sure what I was expecting precisely from The Rebel Wife by Taylor Polites, but it's not what I got. Which, honestly, isn't really a bad thing; this story is certainly more complex, and definitely more thought provoking than the one I'd anticipated. I just wish I hadn't spent half the book frustrated with Augusta's shallow blind devotion to her cousin Judge.

The Rebel Wife is the story of August Branson, proud daughter of Southern roots who made the fatal mistake of marrying a Union sympathizer (for money and security and at her family's urging) after the Civil War. It's ten years on and Gus now has a young child when her husband Eli dies unexpectedly of a mystery illness. It's at this point that Gus discovers, through her very controlling cousin Judge, that Eli's money is mostly gone or tied up in the mill he owned. Gus is a lot of things, but a woman with a backbone she is not; she listens to Judge and his equally smarmy son Buck, and believes that her dead husband was blackmailing and misusing many of the townspeople. Though it seems apparent to the reader that Judge is attempting to take Gus's money, she doesn't see it for a loooooooong time; until, that is, Simon, one of her servants, starts revealing Eli's past, slowly bringing Gus to the realization that she can stand up to Judge. Maybe.

There is a mystery involved: sometime around the time Eli got sick, a saddlebag containing $5000 disappeared, and Simon is determined to find it for Augusta and himself. Judge seems equally determined, and even Gus's ne'er do well brother Mike wants it. As time passes, Gus finds herself aiding Simon and listening more and more to her servants who have seen what's been going on and are determined to escape the prejudice of former slavery. I just wish she'd figured things out sooner...because up until the last 70 pages or so, I was seriously thinking she needed a good whop upside the head.

Minor spoiler.....The final climax is very thrilling, and well worth the frustration of the earlier pages; Gus finally, FINALLY comes into her own and takes charge. The Rebel Wife? What on earth did she rebel against for the first two thirds of the book? And her husband never really seemed much of a Rebel for the south, either. Oh well. I never did buy Simon in general; he seemed pretty shady and his speech was highly unrealistic for the time period. And it's written in present tense...which I detest, particularly in historical fiction. But Polites has definitely done his research and the entire book is filled with historical accuracy for the period. That coupled with the climax bumps this review up to 4 stars from the 3 I'd originally planned.


Mt. TBR...One View

Sitting here on my bed (favorite spot in the house) and I thought...why not share my view? So this is Mt.TBR, the side of the bed version. I really need to sort through it again and get rid of some books I now know I'll never read, but it's just such a big.undertaking.  I can't force myself to do it.  I'm so weak willed, I can't even stop new books from coming into the house! Arrrrrgh.

Anyway, Angus loves lording it over the outside birds and the books, using his regal pose to show he's king of the house.