Posts Categorized: Book Reviews

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

April 10, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 9 ★★★★★

The Woodcutter by Kate DanleyThe Woodcutter
by Kate Danley
(Website, Goodreads)
Published by 47North
on October 14th 2010
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 346
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Buy the Book
five-stars
Deep within the Wood, a young woman lies dead. Not a mark on her body. No trace of her murderer. Only her chipped glass slippers hint at her identity.

The Woodcutter, keeper of the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms of Man and the Realm of the Faerie, must find the maiden’s killer before others share her fate. Guided by the wind and aided by three charmed axes won from the River God, the Woodcutter begins his hunt, searching for clues in the whispering dominions of the enchanted unknown.

But quickly he finds that one murdered maiden is not the only nefarious mystery afoot: one of Odin’s hellhounds has escaped, a sinister mansion appears where it shouldn’t, a pixie dust drug trade runs rampant, and more young girls go missing. Looming in the shadows is the malevolent, power-hungry queen, and she will stop at nothing to destroy the Twelve Kingdoms and annihilate the Royal Fae…unless the Woodcutter can outmaneuver her and save the gentle souls of the Wood.

Blending magic, heart-pounding suspense, and a dash of folklore, The Woodcutter is an extraordinary retelling of the realm of fairy tales.

You guys. When I started this book, I didn’t know what to expect. It was an impulse buy. It was $3.99 on Amazon. The premise sounded interesting. And I was in a funk and needed some retail therapy. So in the cart it went. Then, somehow, it didn’t flounder in my TBR. I picked it up the next day. STILL not expecting much.

I certainly didn’t expect to fall head over heels in love with it and promptly call it my favorite book of the year. The whole year. Like, I’ve already read my favorite book of 2014 and I already know nothing else will hold a candle, favorite book of the year.

No, I am not delusional. I am in love, damn it!

So, what’s so great about this book?

  • If you know me at all, you know I love fairy tales. The Woodcutter takes place in a world where fairy tales are real, they continuously play out, and Woodcutter plays his part, as well as watching over this unique world.
  • All my favorites are there; Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Baba Yaga, Oberon and Tatiana, (lots of different traditions are covered) but there are also other traditional fairy tale tropes – magic trees, moving houses, pixies and more.
  • The best part however, is there is something wrong with this world where everything happens so predictably according to story. The stories are changing. In such brilliant ways. In horrible ways. In ways that just keep you reading. It’s like the Grimm brothers on some dark, twisted shit.
  • The writing is gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. Seriously gorgeous. So fairy tale faithful gorgeous.
  • The best description I can think of; it’s a fairy tale for grown ups, with all your favorite fairy tale characters from your youth.

My favorite character without a doubt was the Woodcutter. His (insert mental picture of me clasping my fists to my head because I can’t think of the words I so desperately want) WAY with his environment; the trees (oh, the trees, my second favorite character), the stories, the pixies, all of it, was simply mesmerizing. He’s such a quiet, unassuming man, but he’s also the hero. Perhaps reluctantly since throughout the book he just wants to go home to his plain, boring, but adored and wonderful wife, but he keeps on. He just keeps on keeping on, doing the job tasked him, because he cares. He cares so damn much. It’s his job, but it’s also something more. It’s his life. He feels like a throwback character to another time to me; when men did what they had to do not only because it was their job but also because it was their passion.

I also loved how all the stories were turned on their heads, so to speak. All the stories change. Red Riding Hood still goes tripping through the forest, but she doesn’t quite end up the way she usually does. Neither does her grandmother. Snow White still flees into the forest with the Hunter, but she never makes it to the dwarves. Rumplestiltskin still goes for a first born, but things don’t turn out quite the way he hopes. Traditionally weak female characters are suddenly empowered. Males find themselves forced into unfamiliar circumstances. And it was all delightful to me. DeLightFul.

Did I mention the writing is gorgeous? Kate Danley really outdid herself with keeping to the traditional fairy tale tropes. The writing practically sings. You know I highlighted a ton of quotes, right? Here are a few of my favorites:

She was who she was, no more, and that was what made her so special.

Winter was fading and the tender touch of spring had caressed the earth, leaving its gift of new blossoms in delicate green.

The absence of glamour was intoxicating. Surrounded by a swirl of other ladies in paired fineries and magicked perfumes, she stood in the firelight with no auras, no spells-just quiet, like an ancient oak rooted deep to the center of the earth.

He took those fingers and held them to his lips, loving them, loving them for loving him, loving them for teaching him how to love.

There are so many more I want to share, but I can’t because they give too much of the story away. I feel like I have been very inadequate in describing this book, but I feel reasonably sure I have conveyed my love for it. If you give it a try, please let me know. I’m dying to talk to someone about it.

I purchased this book through Amazon.com. If you should buy the book through my link, I will receive around 4% of the price in commission.

About Kate Danley

Kate Danley is twenty year veteran of stage and screen with a B.S. in theatre from Towson University. She was one of four students to be named a Maryland Distinguished Scholar in the Arts in the annual competition.

Her debut novel, The Woodcutter, was honored with the Garcia Award for the Best Fiction Book of the Year, is the 1st Place Fantasy Book in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and the winner of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

April 3, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 9 ★★★★★

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl's Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones
Series: Howl's Moving Castle #1
Published by Greenwillow Books
on January 1st 1986
Genres: Classic, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 340
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Buy the Book
five-stars
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the ey

“In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”

I swore this month that I would make friends with Diana Wynne Jones if it killed me (gross over-exaggeration, but typical of me as you know). I’m happy, so happy, to report that after 3 years of trying, I have found a Diana Wynne Jones’s book I like, nay, love. I LOVE IT.

A few things about it:

  • Who is the main character? That would be Sophie, the eldest of three daughters and destined to fail. Why is she destined to fail? Because everyone knows the oldest will fail! She hides in her widowed step-mother’s hat shop, making hats all day, talking to them (as in the hats), and generally being a bit of a mouse. She has some magical abilities but doesn’t really seem to realize it.
  • Who is Howl? Howl is a wizard! And something of a dandy. Okay, more than something of a dandy, he is QUITE the dandy. And rumored to eat the hearts of all the girls who fall in love with him or something like that. There are a LOT of rumors about Howl.
  • What final gets Sophie out of the hat shop? The Witch of the Waste! Sophie somehow caught the ire of the Witch (that magical ability that Sophie doesn’t seem to know about no doubt) and she comes along and ages Sophie about 70 years completely out of spite.
  • How does Sophie deal with that? By running away and going to live with Howl in his magical walking castle of course! There she meets Calcifer; a fire demon who lives in Howl’s fireplace. They make a deal; if she will help Calcifer break the curse on him, he will help her break the curse on her. She hires herself as Howl’s cleaning lady and moves on in.
  • Also along for the ride? Michael, who is Howl’s apprentice; a scarecrow; Sophie’s two sisters; various spiders; a man-dog; and, of course, the house. Plus various other minor characters.

Oh, I love so many things about what Diana Wynne Jones did with this story. The sheer fun of it was a delight. It was just a joy to read. And I feel like I haven’t read enough books this year that were just plain old fun, joyful reads. I need more of these reads in my life.

I loved the main character of Sophie. She starts the book as such a mousy person, but becoming “old” set her free in so many ways. She started saying the things she thought, she started doing the things she wanted to do…she just became so much less inhibited. As I have aged, I have noticed that I too have started doing and saying things I want and think more often and can only assume that Wynne Jones was showing that getting old can do that to a person. I hope it continues for me! I love that she takes her destiny into her own hands, rather than staying on the path to failure as she believes because of her birth. And I loved how Sophie ended up, but of course, I can’t tell you exactly how she ends up. You’ll have to read the book for yourself.

I was surprised at how much I liked Howl. He is a different kind of immature than Sophie. Sophie’s immaturity is based on a sheltered homelife and a timid personality. Howl is a spoiled brat. When he doesn’t get his way, he throws temper-tantrums. His room is a disaster. He trolls from woman to woman, loving them until they love him back then he’s off on the next conquest. Yet, as Wynne Jones paints this picture of him, I couldn’t help but start to understand him and as I understood him, to like him.

And then, there’s Calcifer. You can’t have Howl without Calcifer. He’s described in the book as a fire demon and he lives in Howl’s fireplace. His magic and Howl’s are so intertwined, it is put forth that one cannot live without the other. The two have made a mysterious bargain. Calcifer is the one who decides to let Sophie in and in return for letting her stay, they will help each other break their respective curses. Calcifer is by far my favorite character in the whole book. He’s so grumpy and crabby and powerful and can be a bit mean. By the end of the book, Calcifer’s life is just as intertwined with Sophie’s as with Howl’s, in a sense making a family.

The main antagonist, The Witch of the Waste, is the most powerful magician around and she has her sights set on Howl, since he spited her. Howl therefore does everything he can to avoid her. I think a lot of her power comes from her broken heart and I appreciated how Wynne Jones shows how that power can be used for ill. By the end, despite all the things she has done, I was merely left feeling sorry for her.

As for Wynne Jones’s writing, it’s equal parts clever, hilarious, moving, and just plain ole fun. I love how she shows age doesn’t necessarily mean life is over, and that anyone can be family. I love that she took a dandy (Howl) and turned him into something more. And I loved how she took this timid mouse of a girl and turned her into something amazing. Gosh, I just loved this book so much. I hope it’s obvious. And I hope you’ll read it. I have left out so much! Howl’s Moving Castle is a book rich in story, characters, personality, and, like I said, fun.

Quotes:

“Yes, you are nosy. You’re a dreadfully nosy, horribly bossy, appallingly clean old woman. Control yourself. You’re victimizing us all.”

“More about Howl? Sophie thought desperately. I have to blacken his name! Her mind was such a blank that for a second it actually seemed to her that Howl had no faults at all. How stupid! ‘Well, he’s fickle, careless, selfish, and hysterical,’ she said. ‘Half the time I think he doesn’t care what happens to anyone as long as he’s alright–but then I find out how awfully kind he’s been to someone. Then I think he’s kind just when it suits him–only then I find out he undercharges poor people. I don’t know, Your Majesty. He’s a mess.”

“Really, these wizards! You’d think no one had ever had a cold before! Well, what is it?” she asked, hobbling through the bedroom door onto the filthy carpet.

“I’m dying of boredom,” Howl said pathetically. “Or maybe just dying.”

“So you were going to rescue the Prince! Why did you pretend to run away? To deceive the Witch?”

“Not likely! I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!”

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through my affiliate link, I will get 4%.

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Will O’ the Wisp by Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

February 27, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 4 ★★★★★

Will O’ the Wisp by Tom Hammock and Megan HutchinsonWill O'the Wisp
on January 28, 2014
Genres: Graphic Novel
Pages: 216
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Buy the Book
five-stars
After her parents' accidental death by mushroom poisoning, young Aurora Grimeon is sent to live with her estranged grandfather on Ossuary Isle, deep in the southern swamps. Joined by her grandfather's pet raccoon Missy, Aurora explores the fog-covered island of graves. Along the way she meets its sinister residents who care for the tombstones and mausoleums, living out their lives by the strange rules of Hoodoo magic. When ghostly things start happening out in the swamp and island residents start disappearing, Aurora thrusts herself into the middle of the mystery, uncovering secrets that might be better left buried.

Fair warning. I really really really really really loved this graphic novel. So expect a fair amount of gushing. I can’t help it. I just can’t help it.

I LOVED IT OKAY?

Don’t judge me.

This is Aurora Grimeon.

aurora

This is her grandfather.

grandfather

Aurora is twelve and has been sent to live with her grandfather on Ossuary Isle after the death of her parents by mushroom poisoning. Lucky for Aurora, she doesn’t like mushrooms and someone sent the antidote before she succumbed as well. Her grandfather is an eccentric man of science (honestly, I never really caught on to what he does exactly, but I didn’t really care. I’ll pick it up in a reread I’m sure.) and keeps a pet raccoon instead of having personal relationships. Estranged from Aurora’s family for years, it’s an unexpected surprise for him to suddenly be raising a twelve year old girl.

Ossuary Isle is firmly entrenched in the South. It is in the deep, deep swamp. It feels very ‘Louisiana,’ with talk of death and tombstones, mausoleums, and Hoodoo magic. As Aurora explores her new surroundings; her grandfather’s ancient mansion full of twists, turns, skeletons, and so many oddities (pay attention to what isn’t said); the foggy island full of graves, and the strange and eccentric residents of the isle, she encounters a mysterious entity known as the wisp. When people start mysteriously disappearing, Aurora takes matters into her own hands. She WILL find out what is going on or…well…die in the trying?

This. Book. Oh my gosh, you guys. This book was pure magic to me. Hoodoo magic! As soon as I held the book in my hands, I knew it was a keeper. It fit perfectly. I was enchanted by the catch on the side, like something secret was lurking inside, waiting for me to crack it open and get lost. And get lost I did. The art is magic. The words are magic. The story is magic. This book! It is SO a book for me. Being from the South, I feel like we have our own particular brand of magic, must like other places in the world like England, Scotland, and Ireland and Africa and the isles. Maybe it’s because so many of South’s ancestors are an amalgamation of these cultures; it just feels so entrenched to me. And all of that in entrenched in this book, explaining my love. I have always loved fairy tales, myths, folklore, and the like and Will O’ the Wisp has all of it in spades. I sincerely hope there will be more books about Aurora Grimeon, or at least more books by this author. This team! I now cannot imagine Tom Hammock’s words without the beautiful artwork by Megan Hutchinson.

There. I have gushed enough. I hope it was sufficient to convince you to give this one a try. Because I want you to. For me. Read this one for me, your old pal Heather. You won’t regret it!!!

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Graphic Novel February: the first half

February 18, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 13

So, as of February 15th, I’ve read nine graphic novels. Since there are so many to review, I thought I’d just do some mini-reviewing. Lucky you!

Comics Feb Part 1

Saga Volume 1. War. Star crossed lovers. A baby. Assassins. Interstellar travel by tree. A half ghost. AND THIS IS JUST THE FIRST VOLUME.

Will O’ the Wisp by Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson. I am going to review this one separately. BECAUSE IT MEANS THAT MUCH TOO ME. And I just have so many words about this one. So. Many. Words.

Saga Volume 2. Is it enough to say that freaking volume 3 cannot come out fast enough? No? Ugh. Okay, I just read this and I think it’s completely the best description ever. “Stars Wars meets Romeo and Juliet” space opera. Completely perfect. Can I please have Volume 3 now?

Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice. So, Tony Chu has an…interesting…ability. He can read things from the items he eats. He can tell how much water, pesticide, and fertilizer an apple received before it was picked. He can read anything. ANYTHING. This makes him one hell of a detective. Albeit a gross one. The only thing he can eat and not get any psychic feelings from are beets. It’s brilliant. Funny, kinda gross, kinda warped, very offbeat, a little nauseating…I think you’re getting the picture, right? This is the beginning of a great series.

American Vampire: Volume 1 by Scott Snyder and Stephen King. I totally read this for my husband. He’s been after me to read it since we got the first one. He is anxiously awaiting volume 6. Basically, it’s about vampires. The old school kind, who can’t go out in sunlight, drink blood, and are all decadent and shit, and whoops! They accidentally created a new kind of vampire, a day-walker, and whoops! They did it to one of the meanest mothers ever and it’s all set in the wild west. Despite all the blood, it is kinda awesome, which I didn’t even realize until I just described it. Sometimes reviewing truly does help me appreciate a book more. *happy sigh*

French Milk by Lucy Knisley. I adored this one the first time I read it. This time, well, not quite as much. There are still many parts I adored, but somehow Knisley’s voice wore on me a bit. Maybe it’s the fact that I have two whiny kids at home? I don’t want to read them in my books? Maybe? Still. I want to drink some French milk someday!

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. This reread, on the other hand, was even better than the first time I read it. The first time I read it, I closed the book feeling vaguely irritated without being able to put a finger on the why. This time, I’m perfectly content. I can only figure I picked up on something I missed last time. Funny how that works.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. What can I saw about Shaun Tan other than I adore him? This is either my fourth or fifth time reading just THIS book and I love it more each time. It is the kind of book one will always find something new and different in. And, like Pixar, Tan proves you can tell a story without any words. Magic.

Stone Arch Fairy Tales Volume 2: Secrets, Monsters, and Magic Mirrors edited by Donald Lemke. This, like the first in the series, is a collection of fairy tales retold by different comic book artists. While I enjoyed the collection, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. I’m going to blame this on the fact that this collection feel after so many awesome graphic novels before it. There can be a downfall to reading so many comics in so few days!

This is why I took a couple day break. Apparently it was needed!

Have you read any of these? Do you plan to? What did you think of them? Will you be moving any up your TBR list? Hit me up in the comments!

 

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

February 13, 2014 Book Reviews 13 ★★★★★

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
by Susan Cain
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)
Published by Crown Publishing Group
on January 1st 2011
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Buy the Book
five-stars
From GoodReads:

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a "pretend extrovert."

This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
Clicking the above affiliate link, will provide me with a small sum of money, which is used to fund my blog and my book habit.

Rather than gush and gush and gushy gush over this book, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to give you my top ten favorite quotes (trust me, there are more) from this book and let it gushy gush gush for itself. And yeah, I’ll probably talk about the quotes a bit. Don’t never know, now do ya?

“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Can I just get this tattooed on my forehead? I always wish I were home in my pajamas. Social awkwardness for the win. But really, it’s just so much more…comfortable…for my brain and spirit to devote those “social energies” to those I am close to. Anyone else is just exhausting.

Also, I love that she calls small talk a ‘horror’.

“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.”

All I have to say about this is WORD.

“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”

This is me to a T. (Also, what does that even mean, “describes me to a T?” Where did that come from?!)

“Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.”

I still get told to come out of my shell.

“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”

I just love everything about that sentence.

“I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas. It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.”

How many people do you know like this? Cause I know tons. TONS, I tell you.

“The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself.”

Made of gold. That whole sentence is made of gold. I often felt like I was just trying to survive, especially in classes with teachers who expected class participation. I would break out in a cold sweat anytime a teacher called on me. Come to think of it, I still do this with my manager in meetings! I need to get him to read this book.

“I had always imagined Rosa Parks as a stately woman with a bold temperament, someone who could easily stand up to a busload of glowering passengers. But when she died in 2005 at the age of ninety-two, the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was “timid and shy” but had “the courage of a lion.” They were full of phrases like “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.”

Not long ago I listened to The History Chicks’ podcast on Rose Parks. It is fascinating. She was fascinating. The above was completely true. She was a shy, soft-spoken woman, with a lion’s share of courage, and truly inspiring lady who didn’t let her introversion keep her from fighting for what she believed it.

“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in the world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted. Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches. To possess such a key is to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn’t choose to go to Wonderland — but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own.”

I love this analogy. One thing this book taught me is that introverts have their own special powers. We just have to learn how to use them, something that school, work, and often life itself fails to teach us. It’s almost like it’s something we have to teach ourselves.

“we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally”

My other tattoo.

Gosh, I could just keep going. So much wisdom from such a wonderfully written book. Whether you are an introvert, an extrovert, or are somewhere in between, there is a lot to learn from this book. I highly recommend it to, like, everyone in the whole freaking world.

About Susan Cain

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SUSAN CAIN is the author of the instant New York Times bestseller QUIET: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, which has been translated into more than 20 languages. Her writing on introversion and shyness has appeared in the The New York Times; The Dallas Morning News; O, The Oprah Magazine; Time.com; and on PsychologyToday.com. Cain has also spoken at Microsoft, Google, the U.S. Treasury, and at TED 2012. Since her TED talk was posted online, it has been viewed almost two million times. She has appeared on national broadcast television and radio including CBS “This Morning,” NPR’s “All Things Considered,” NPR’s “Diane Rehm,” and her work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, in The Atlantic, Wired, Fast Company, Real Simple, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate.com, and many other publications. She is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons. Visit: www.thepowerofintroverts.com

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The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

January 30, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 3 ★★★★

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey WallaceThe Blind Contessa's New Machine: A Novel
by Carey Wallace
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
on July 1st 2010
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 207
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
four-stars
From Goodreads:

An iridescent jewel of a novel that proves love is the mother of invention

In the early 1800s, a young Italian contessa, Carolina Fantoni, realizes she is going blind shortly before she marries the town's most sought-after bachelor. Her parents don't believe her, nor does her fiancé. The only one who understands is the eccentric local inventor and her longtime companion, Turri. When her eyesight dims forever, Carolina can no longer see her beloved lake or the rich hues of her own dresses. But as darkness erases her world, she discovers one place she can still see-in her dreams. Carolina creates a vivid dreaming life, in which she can not only see, but also fly, exploring lands she had never known.

Desperate to communicate with Carolina, Turri invents a peculiar machine for her: the world's first typewriter. His gift ignites a passionate love affair that will change both of their lives forever.

Based on the true story of a nineteenth-century inventor and his innovative contraption, The Blind Contessa's New Machine is an enchanting confection of love and the triumph of the imagination.

I loved this book when I read it, but in reality, it hasn’t stuck with me like I thought it would. This could be because the book was so short, and because I felt it was lacking in substance. To break it down:

  • What is it about? A young Italian contessa named Carolina starts going blind at a young age and for a long time, no one believes her. She gets married to the BMOC, but secretly loves her neighbor, the oddball local mad scientist who is ten years her senior.
  • What does she do about it? Nothing really. She keeps whining complaining talking about it bumping into things and then they FINALLY BELIEVE HER! She enjoys (hubba hubba) her husband, but still secretly longs for her lovah. Which I can’t blame her honestly, he is the only one who always believed her AND listened to her when she so much as TALKED. You know, because this is Italy in the early 1800s. Women really have no idea WHAT they are talking about. What do you mean, you can’t SEE? OF COURSE! YOU ARE BEING METAPHORICAL. HOW DELIGHTFUL YOU ARE MY DEAR.
  • Do they every believe her? Now, why would I tell you that?
  • Does she get with her honey? Now, why would I TELL YOU THAT? I want you to read the book, not learn all about it here!
  • What is the new machine? Seriously, what is your problem? READ THE BOOK.

In all seriousness, I did enjoy the book. I felt for Carolina and her hubby AND her honey, especially at the end of it. This book is great for a short diversion. The writing is whimsical and lovely, just lacking a little substance. It sort of reminds me of Sarah Addison Allen’s work. Except Italian. And with less substance. (I really have to stop saying that!) I think it would be great for a slump buster. I totally think you should check it out. You know, like out of the library? :P

Favorite Quotes:

“On the day Contessa Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom.

This was not because she had failed to warn them.

“I am going blind,” she had blurted to her mother, in the welcome dimness of the family coach, her eyes still bright with tears from the searing winter sun. By this time, her peripheral vision was already gone. Carolina could feel her mother take her hand, but she had to turn to see her face. When she did, her mother kissed her, her own eyes full of pity.

“I have been in love, too,” she said, and looked away.”

“His small compliments and offhand remarks formed a new scripture, and in breathless conversations and lonely, dream-drunk nights they built whole theologies from them.”

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Touching the Void by Joe Simpson

January 28, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 4 ★★★★

Touching the Void by Joe SimpsonTouching the Void
by Joe Simpson
Published by Vintage Classics
on October 2nd 2008 (first published in 1988)
Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
four-stars
From Goodreads.com:

Touching the Void is the heart-stopping account of Joe Simpson's terrifying adventure in the Peruvian Andes. He and his climbing partner, Simon, reached the the summit of the remote Siula Grande in June 1995. A few days later, Simon staggered into Base Camp, exhausted and frost-bitten, with news that that Joe was dead.

What happened to Joe, and how the pair dealt with the psychological traumas that resulted when Simon was forced into the appalling decision to cut the rope, makes not only an epic of survival but a compelling testament of friendship

“Life can deal you an amazing hand. Do you play it steady, bluff like crazy or go all in?”

Talk about a spine-chilling, knee-jerk experience. Me, describing this book? That is it. The best way to describe this book; it is an Experience. It doesn’t help that this isn’t my usual type of read, but it has been in my stacks for ages and dang it, this year I’m trying to clear these things out!

Joe Simpson and his friend Simon Yates are mountain climbers. EXTREME mountain climbers. They set out to climb a previously untested mountain range in the Andes Mountains. It was cold. It was dangerous. It was exhilarating. In the beginning of the book, the cold, the wet, the loneliness…I was left wondering what in the world these two men could possibly see fun about doing what they were doing! It just sounds miserable! But then, just like a good author should, Simpson provided the reason for me:

For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to be isolated from people and society. It was wonderfully calming and tranquil to be here. I became aware of a feeling of complete freedom-to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to, and in whatever manner. Suddenly the whole day had changed. All lethargy was swept away by an invigorating independence. We had responsibilities to no one but ourselves now, there would be no more to intrude or come to our rescue…

That quote comes from near the beginning of the book, as they are on their way up that crazy mountain. He intentionally weighs it down at the end there, doesn’t he? Come to our rescue…. Still makes me shiver.

It’s no mystery that Joe Simpson fell on their return trip down the mountain. It’s no secret he survived. He wrote this book! Knowing that shouldn’t prevent you from wanting to read this book. The fall takes mere moments in words. It’s what comes after. After; is why you need to read this book. The physical journey, the spiritual journey, the pain, and fear, and hope, and despair…these are reasons why you need to read this book. Joe Simpson, and Simon Yates, lay it all bare for the world to see. It is a moving, painful, and breath-taking journey to read. And it’s cold; very, very cold. I challenge you to read this book and not feel COLD. The things these two men go through…it’s epic. It’s an epic story of survival and a moving story of friendship and bravery not quite like anything I’ve read before. Highly recommended and shows I really should step out of my comfort zone every once in awhile!

About Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson is the author of the bestselling Touching the Void, as well as four subsequent non-fiction books published by The Mountaineers Books: This Game of Ghosts, Storms of Silence, Dark Shadows Falling, and The Beckoning Silence. The Beckoning Silence won the 2003 National Outdoor Book Award. The other three published by The Mountaineers Books were all shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Award.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

January 15, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 10 ★★★★★

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Length: 12 hrs and 30 mins
Published by Crown Publishing Group
on February 2, 2010
Genres: Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Goodreads
five-stars
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

This book has been reviewed, a lot, but I had a few things I wanted to say about it. And I figure reviewing it so much later than everyone else will remind those who haven’t read it YET of WHY they need to do so. I love how Candace from Beth Fish Reads uses bullets for some of her reviews, so I’m going to borrow that from her. Hope she doesn’t get me.

  • Who is Henrietta Lacks? Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman from the South, who, at the age of 32 died from cervical cancer. She left behind 5 children, several siblings, and her husband. She died in 1951.
  • What is HeLa? HeLa cells are cancer cells that were taken from Henrietta’s cervix without her knowledge of consent.  HeLa cells were the first immortal cells, meaning that they thrived in culture, instead of dying like all cells before them. These cells have become one of the most important tools used in medicine and science for the last 30 years. These cells are still alive today, more than 60 years after Henrietta’s death.
  • What has HeLa helped with? HeLa has helped cure polio. Helped study cancer and viruses. They went with the testing of the atomic bomb to study what happened to human cells when expose to that level of radiation. They went into space to see how human cells would handle zero gravity. They lead to advances in in vitro fertilization, cloning, mapping of genes, and more. They have been bought by the vial full by the billions. If you weighed all the cells ever produced, it would be in the metric tons. Around 50 metric tons. Despite all these contributions, Henrietta Lacks remains barely a footnote in the history of science.
  • What does her family think of this? Once they found out, decades later, they were understandably confused, unhappy, and angry. And scared. Because they found out once researchers became interested in them. Researchers used questionable methods to obtain blood and other information from her family, without adequately informing them of what they were doing. Worst of all, the family never saw a penny of any money generated by Henrietta’s cells.
  • What else is covered in the book? The birth of bioethics, experimentation on African Americans, and the aftermath of Henrietta’s life on the family she held so dear. Rebecca Skloot found herself becoming close to the family, youngest child Deborah in particular, who had a hard time coming to terms with what had happened to her mother and her mother’s cells. Ignorance of science and lack of communication from doctors and researchers left Deborah scared for her mother and the sister, Elsie, whom she never knew. And, strongest point for me as a reader in this day and age, how is it that if Henrietta’s cells had generated so much for science, how could her family be left without health insurance?

To wrap up, this book touched me in so many unexpected ways. I expected to enjoy learning something. I expected to learn about HeLa and all the advances made in science thanks to them. I didn’t not expect to find myself in tears by the end, touched beyond all expectation when it was said that one of Henrietta’s grandchildren graduated from college. I didn’t expect to become so angry over the treatment of not only Henrietta herself, but her family in the 60 years after Henrietta’s death. I didn’t expect to find myself heartbroken. And I didn’t expect myself to be so moved. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a remarkable book, definitely not to be missed. And the audio edition is absolutely stellar. Cassandra Campbell is one of my very favorite readers and she definitely did not disappoint with this one.

Highly recommended.

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Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

July 25, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 9

roseunderfire

Code Name Verity (my review) was my favorite book of last year. So, it was a given that I would read the next thing Elizabeth Wein wrote. When browsing NetGalley one day, I came across a book with her name on it. I was so excited! Needless to say, I didn’t even read the description. I just put in a request for it, and rejoiced when I got the email saying I was approved.

I didn’t take me long to dig in either.

So, you can probably imagine how surprised and delighted to find that Maddie and Anna Engel, characters from Code Name Verity briefly appears in Rose Under Fire! Honestly, I was beyond excited. Even if they aren’t really main characters, as Rose Under Fire is more of a companion novel that a direct sequel, it was nice to see how they have been after the events of Code Name Verity.

The main character of Rose Under Fire is the eponymous Rose. Rose Justice, a young American teenager and friend of Maddie, is also a female pilot and she is helping deliver planes during WWII. It is during a routine delivery that she is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp. Ravensbruck is beyond brutal. If Wein was pulling her punches, it makes me sick to think how bad Ravensbruck really was, because Wein’s version is intense. Rose struggles to survive with her health, her sanity, and her friends until the war is over.

Ravensbruck was truly horrifying. Just reading about the “Rabbits”—Polish prisoners who were experimented on in grotesque and abused in terribly painful ways—is painful. All the residents of the camp, women from the Red Army, the Polish, the Jews, and a scattering of Americans are all deplorably “cared” for. The things they are made to do…. *shudder* Yet, there is an under-current of hope amid all this pain that can’t be denied. Knowing Wein’s attention to detail and research skills, I can only hope the read “Rabbits” had the same mentality as Wein’s. As with most accounts of WWII and the Holocaust—in fiction and nonfiction—I came away feeling both emotionally drained, moved, and haunted.

Elizabeth Wein’s characters live and breathe. That’s the only way I can think to describe them. They all feel so real, with all their feelings, loves, desires, hatreds, friendships, opinions, fears and souls. Their stories are intense and shocking, heartbreaking and disturbing. Wein’s writing is just as powerful in Rose Under Fire as it was in Code Name Verity, even with Rose telling her story after the fact, whereas Maddie and Julie’s stories felt more immediate and dangerous as their stories were told more as it happened. As you can probably guess, I highly recommended both books.

Barrie Hardymon of NPR, compared Rose Under Fire to Code Name Verity, wrote that Rose Under Fire is “a quieter, less breathless read, which ultimately makes it that much more devastating.”

I completely agree with that remark. Get Code Name Verity, if you haven’t already read it, then get Rose Under Fire, which will be released September 10.

Rose Under Fire
By Elizabeth Wein
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Released September 10, 2013
368 pages, Hardcover
ISBN 9781423183099
Acquired from NetGalley; thank you to the publisher for
allowing me to read and review this book.
Rated: 5/5

 

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The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

June 6, 2013 Book Reviews, Books, eBooks 10

13326831Remember how I said a few weeks ago that book comparisons make me nervous?

Well, I’m about to make one. And yes, this makes me nervous.

The Testing seems to be the latest dystopian YA “IT” novel, heir-apparent to The Hunger Games. Cia Vale lives with her family in the Five Lakes Colony, one of the few colonies left in what was America after the Seven Stages War. The Seven Stages War left the country is ruins, the land almost completely barren, and the water mostly undrinkable. The few who remain struggle to get the things they need from the ravaged land. Cia’s father and brothers are some of the citizens who work with the land, developing new crops that can flourish and sustain their colony.

Cia, who is graduating from high school, seems to be living her life to go to university, so that she can be like her father. To go to university, however, one must go through a process called Testing. It has been 15 years since anyone from Five Lakes Colony has been picked for testing. She’s hoping this year will be different.

At first, it appears it’s not.

But later, she finds out she has been picked. I’m not going into the politics of what happens with that, as it would be giving away tooooooo much. Let’s just say she gets picked. She goes to Testing.

All of this, before the shift to the Testing, was fascinating to me. I loved the world building, the way the colony worked, the interaction between Cia and her family. It was just too brief. Because this is YA dystopia, and YA dystopia doesn’t take long to GET TO THE POINT.

The point is to get to the Testing. Once there, the book begins to feel suspiciously familiar.

The Testing consists of 4 parts. The first three test basic skills. The fourth. Well. The fourth is where things begin to feel very, very familiar.

Spoiler alert:

It felt like a complete rip off of The Hunger Games. Except with a gun instead of arrows.

Spoiler over.

There is a lot of politics, and of course the environmental message (which actually didn’t bother me), and OF COURSE the romance between the two hometown friends. Which felt very forced and unnecessary to me. Actually, most of it felt forced to me. And derivative. The beginning was so good, I was so into it and all, and then it just went down hill. But, that is too me. I think I’ve read too much YA lately.  But, let me be blunt. If you are looking for another Hunger Games, as much as it makes me nervous to say it, this book is for you. If you’re tired of the formula, but think it sounds good, give it a try! You’ll probably like it (I did LIKE some of it, I’m just disappointed I didn’t LOVE it). If you are really tired of the formula, I’d keep on moving. To me, the book had a lot of potential it just didn’t live up to. I may read the next in the series (because of course, it’s a trilogy). I’m going to wait to read the description before I decide though.

The Testing
By Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (June 4, 2013)
336 pages (hardcover)
Acquired from NetGalley
Rated 3/5

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