Posts Categorized: Books

Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 1 – The Eye of the World

January 15, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 9

Welcome to the Two Rivers… and the rest of the world of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Book 1 – The Eye of the World

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, and Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

My Thoughts:

I remember thinking the first time I read this book that it was very Lord of the Rings-y. And it is, right up until the end — purposefully, obviously. There are the clear parallels between characters (Lan = Aragorn, for example), outright rip-offs (Mountains of Mist = Misty Mountains), and then the winking references that seem meant to tell Tolkien fans that it’s all in good fun (The Nine Rings, an inn named after an adventure story that our MC Rand really likes). Now, upon re-reading it and taking the series as a whole into account, I kinda think the LotR references/homages are bordering on red herring status.

Something else I remembered about my initial read of these books was how much my opinions of the characters changed over the course of the series. Not gonna go into a whole lot of detail about this because I do want to avoid spoilers for newbie readers, but I do think it speaks to Jordan’s skill with character development over the long term. Of course, there is PLENTY of room for character development over the course of 15 books….

I’m glad I chose to re-read this series, in large part because it’s so enjoyable to see all the little clues that Jordan seriously planned ahead plot-wise. There are the hints from Min, of course, but there are also little clues scattered in the dialogue and behavior of the characters. I’d say the writing kind of got away from him and the series is at least one book too long, but it doesn’t change the fact that this story is a feat of calculation/foresight.

Questions:
  • What did you think of the parallels to LotR? Fun, annoying, not worth mentioning?
  • If you’ve read this series before, did your opinions about some characters change as the series went on? Or have you had a favorite character or OTP ship from the very start?
  • If you haven’t read this series before, do you really like or dislike any particular characters right now?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
by L. Frank Baum

December 23, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

★ ★ ★ ★

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum | 1902 | Bowen Merrill | Paperback $10

A magical Christmas story by the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus answers the enigmatic Christmas questions: Why does Santa travel via Reindeer? How does he fit through the chimney, and how does he deliver all those toys in one wintry night?

First published in 1902, the tale begins as a wood nymph discovers a baby abandoned in a forest. Raised among mythical forest creatures, the child learns to outwit evil as he grows towards adulthood and must discover how to re-enter the human world, which leaves him determined to share gifts and spread love to his fellow man.

If that summary sounds vaguely familiar, you may remember the rather weird Rankin-Bass stop motion animation TV movie by the same name — you know, Rankin-Bass, the same folks who did the more popular stop motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town Christmas specials you see on repeat around this time of year?

This is a simple story, if somewhat more… hm, pagan than typical Christmas stories, featuring plenty in the way of wood nymphs and fairies and such (not sure “pagan” is quite the word I’m looking for, but it’s close enough). I suppose it could be read as something of a religious allegory à la Narnia — the kind man who devotes his life to making the world a better place for children is blessed with supernatural assistance and a happy, everlasting life — but I’m honestly not sure whether younger readers would pick up on that.

Have you read this book or seen the animated movie version? What did you think of it?

If you’re a fan of L. Frank Baum, don’t forget that I’m hosting a read-along of his Oz series starting in January!


Links:


Publication information: Baum, L. Frank. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Indianapolis, IN: Bowen Merrill, 1902. Print.
Source: Used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
by Howard Pyle

December 22, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 6

★ ★ ★ ★

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle | 1883, this ed. 1985 | Signet Classics | Paperback $3.99

The beloved adventures of Robin Hood come vividly to life in this wonderfully illustrated version by Howard Pyle. Deep in Sherwood Forest, the legendary Robin Hood – the brave, good-humored outlaw the whole world loves – proves himself the best in England with his bow.

This is probably Pyle’s most well-known work outside of his legacy that is the Brandywine School of illustration. Actually, this book includes nearly 50 examples of Pyle’s illustration style, either as full-page woodcut (or woodcut style) scenes or ornaments and frames. When I was first learning to draw I just loved copying the art out of this book.

Sure, the book was written in the 19th century and with an exaggerated approximation of 12th century language (lots of “whither hath that knave gone” and “take thou what thou wilt have” and that sort of thing), but it’s actually not a difficult read. The stories are engaging and mostly, well… merry!

This edition also includes an informative Afterward by Michael Patrick Hearn, which was well worth the extra pages for its explanations of the repeated anti-Catholic sentiments (Pyle was a Quaker) and distinct erasure of Robin’s romances in the older versions of his stories (Pyle thought his assumed audience, little boys, wouldn’t be interested).

This book is certainly a keeper, and one I’ll probably end up re-reading again in the future at least a couple more times.


Links:


Publication information: Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. New York: Signet Classics, 1985. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


The Book Jumper
by Mechthild Gläser

December 17, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 7

★ ★ ★

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser | January 2017 | Feiwel & Friends | Hardcover $17.99

Amy Lennox doesn’t know quite what to expect when she and her mother pick up and leave Germany for Scotland, heading to her mother’s childhood home of Lennox House on the island of Stormsay.

Amy’s grandmother, Lady Mairead, insists that Amy must read while she resides at Lennox House — but not in the usual way. It turns out that Amy is a book jumper, able to leap into a story and interact with the world inside.

As thrilling as Amy’s new power is, it also brings danger: someone is stealing from the books she visits, and that person may be after her life. Teaming up with fellow book jumper Will, Amy vows to get to the bottom of the thefts — at whatever cost.

I’m a huge sucker for the Portal Books trope, where characters get to actually explore the stories that the rest of us plebes can only experience in print. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde and Sherry Thomas’s Elemental Trilogy are great examples of this. Obviously, The Book Jumper falls into this category as well.

(Plus the cover is SO ADORABLE.)

I liked this book, but I think maybe my hopes were a little too high? I figured that if it did so well in the German-language book market that they’ve translated it into English, it must be pretty awesome. And it is good, just not quite mind-blowing I guess. Although, I’m saying that from the perspective of someone who’s read a TON of teen-aimed portal fantasy, so… perhaps I’m just being a little bit curmudgeonly?

The concept is awesome and the writing is decently engaging, but the actual plot was a tiny bit predictable and the relationships were bordering on nonsensical.

Concept: Bookish girl is delighted to learn that she actually has the power to “jump” into stories. Mysterious things start happening in said stories + in the real world, so bookish girl teams up with bookish boy to figure it all out. Totally fun!

Writing: First person narrative, which I know is something that a lot of readers don’t really care for, but I didn’t find it too grating in this case.

Plot: Pretty easy to figure out what’s going on, which means it can be kinda frustrating to watch the characters flounder around until they get it, too. I was a little bit surprised about one revelation, though.

Relationships: WHY. The primary romance, which has the potential to be shippy material, feels like a trite, cliché page-filler. There’s another romance in this book that is simultaneously more genuine and yet slightly icky to think about, too. Just… the characters in general are kinda cheesey/boring, so the crazy plot has to do a lot of the work of keeping the reader’s attention… and when it’s a little too predictable, that’s not the most awesome possible combo, y’know?

Overall I think this is a fine book for a fantasy-hungry teen or YA reader, with the caveat that it’s just not going to be 2017’s earth-shattering breakout book.


Links:


Publication information: Gläser, Mechthild. The Book Jumper. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2017. EPUB.
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wildlife of the Concho Valley
by Terry Maxwell

December 16, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wildlife of the Concho Valley by Terry C. Maxwell | January 2013 | Texas A&M University Press | Hardcover $30

The Concho Valley, named from the abundant mussel shells found in its principal river by seventeenth-century Spanish explorers, occupies a transitional position between the Chihuahuan Desert to the west and the Balcones Canyonlands to the east. As veteran field biologist and educator Terry C. Maxwell notes, the region has experienced wide-ranging changes in the makeup of its vertebrate populations, especially in the decades since farming and ranching began here in earnest, in the mid- to late 1800s.

This is a rather niche subject and I would otherwise not review such an interest-specific book here, but I started reading this one for Nonfiction November and I just want credit for that, dangit.

Full disclosure: I am acquainted with the author of this book. To be specific, he was one of my professors in college (one of the better ones for sure)… and my mother taught at that same school when I was growing up, so actually we’ve been acquainted since I was a little kid. This book wasn’t a freebie, though — we bought it, proudly and enthusiastically, and it was well worth the money.

Dr. Maxwell’s classes were certainly interesting. He was a good lecturer and an even better field trip guide, and his depth of knowledge combined with his talent for teaching shines through in this book. What’s more, several of the chalkboards in the biology department were decorated with his detailed, lifelike drawings of native animals — and, again, his talent for this particular art is evident in this book as well.

I hesitate to recommend Wildlife of the Concho Valley to just anyone… it is, after all, focused on a very local and subject-specific topic. But I do think that if you have any interest at all in the animal life of Central/West Texas, you’ll find it engaging, informative, and generally a pleasure to read.


Links:


Publication information: Maxwell, Terry Wildlife of the Concho Valley. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2013. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


Backlist Love | Ol’ Blue Eyes

December 10, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 4

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

The Sinatra Treasures: Intimate Photos, Mementos, and Music from the Sinatra Family Collection by Charles Pignone, Quincy Jones, and the Frank Sinatra Estate (Bullfinch, 2004)

Sinatra by Richard Havers (DK, 2004)

The Sinatra Treasures

The first-ever collection from the archives of the legendary Chairman of the Board, filled with never-before-seen photos, letters, mementos, and more.

What is a legend? A legend is a man who, more than 65 years after stepping on stage for the first time, is still larger than life. A man who changed the way we wear our hats. A man possessed not of a voice, but The Voice. Frank Sinatra is a legend.

Sinatra

From poverty to power, Hoboken to Hollywood, this story is the embodiment of the American Dream. For over 50 years Frank Sinatra was at the epicenter of American life – on the radio, in the movie theaters, on TV, and in newspapers and magazines. Includes over 800 photographs, some rare and unseen, capture each moment of the legend’s seven-decade career.

Why I liked them

I have a little weakness for 1940’s music in general, and Frankie in particular. (And Bing of course, but right now we’re talking about Frankie.) That man had a VOICE, right? I was going through kind of a Frankie phase when I met my now-husband in high school — yes, a Society of the Serpent teenager having a crush on a dude that was born like 20 years before her own grandfathers is totally normal* — and he actually bought these for me. So, I’m sort of doubly attached to them, both for the content and for the sweetheart gift status.

But that means nothing to y’all, I know, so let’s talk about the books themselves. They’re both pretty hefty and packed with images, rather more like coffee table books than like regular biographies. The Sinatra Treasures book in particular is great because it comes with a CD with some random recordings of Frankie doing radio talk shows and that sort of thing, which I realize might not sound that appealing to most people who only hear Frankie incidentally at the mall during the holiday season, but for a fan it’s pretty interesting.

*OK, maybe not, but a girl can’t help the way she feels and don’t you judge me.

Who I’d recommend them to

Frank Sinatra fans, obviously. Or fans of 1940’s music/culture in general. I know that’s probably not a huge subset of my particular blog’s peanut gallery, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Frankie lately what with all the Christmas music floating around on the airwaves right now, so this seemed like as good a time as any to talk about these books.

Links

The Sinatra Treasures

Sinatra

backlistlove_redux

The Once and Future King
by T. H. White

December 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 8

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Once and Future King by T.H. White | 1958 | Ace | Paperback $9.99

Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.

I imagine that most of y’all have heard of this book — or at least of its first part, which is often read as a stand-alone children’s book, The Sword in the Stone (yes, like the Disney movie) — or AT LEAST the legends of King Arthur and Camelot. Right? Because if not, you’re missing out on a HUGE piece of Western folklore / literary canon and you should get off the internet and go to a library to amend this situation right freakin’ now.

Although it looks at first glance like a typical kind of “classic” novel, I’d say it’s closer to something like The Lord of the Rings meets Discworld meets A Game of Thrones meets Narnia. (In fact, even though I originally had it classified as red-font “20th century literature/poetry” on my Classics Club list, I’ve switched it to green for SF/F.) I was actually convinced that T.H. White had been a part of the “Inklings” group because the writing/themes seem so in-tune with their work, but apparently he wasn’t (although he did correspond with C.S. Lewis to a limited extent).

The first section — the aforementioned The Sword in the Stone — is certainly the most lighthearted of the stories, leaning more heavily on kid-friendly British folk tales and general silliness than the latter sections. It’s a kind of bait and switch, though, because the stories grow rather more morbid and grown-up after Arthur pulls his sword from that stone. The second section begins with a bored sorceress torturing a cat in gruesome detail, which should give you some clue as to how things go on for the rest of the book. The author might as well have titled part 2 “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

The writing style remains consistent throughout the book, despite the abrupt shift in tone/content. The narrator fairly frequently “butts in” for little explanatory asides or gently snide remarks, which I think annoys some readers but I personally find it charming (at least in this case). The characters are mostly fully developed (or at least sketched with decent detail), with the obvious exceptions of the villainesses, who seemed to be hardly more than seductress-witch caricatures. There are certainly more interesting portrayals of Arthur’s sisters out there, though, so I’ll just leave this little quibble to whither away in the face of the book’s more significant virtues.

This was actually a re-read for me, though it’d been probably about a decade since I read it originally. It’s certainly a favorite of mine now!


Links:


Publication information: White, T.H. The once and future king. New York: Ace, 1958. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Sign up for the Wizard of Oz Read-Along!

December 5, 2016 Books 14

As I mentioned last month, along with my Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along I’ll be starting L. Frank Baums’ Oz series this coming January. This is your official invitation to join me!

I’ll be reading at a pace of 1 book per month. The series includes 14 books (well, the ones written by Baum anyway). I am a firm believer in the “you do you” school of book blogging. If you want to read faster or slower than that, it’s totally up to you. This read-along is really all about having fun with some classic children’s books!

You can see my official read-along page with the schedule and brief summaries of each book here:

woz_readalong

How can you participate? It’s really up to you! Personally, I will be posting a brief review + discussion topic each month after reading a book in the series. You can join in the discussion in the comments on my blog, post about the book on your own blog, share your thoughts on the Lone Star on a Lark Facebook page, @ me on Twitter, spill your feelings into your diary, etc.

But that is a lot of books, what if I do not have the money/space for all this? First of all, go to your freakin’ library. Also, these Oz books are all in the public domain in the United States, which means you can usually find reprints for cheap — or you can just read them for free online (legally) at the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg or similar sites.


Want to be included in that participants list? Please leave a comment on this post with a link to (a) your own blog page where you will track your reading, (b) your blog tag or category for read-along posts, or (c) a Goodreads shelf or LibraryThing collection/tag or similar.

(Please do not add links for individual book review posts. This is meant to be an “umbrella” link that can be included on the official read-along page.)

Not tracking your reading online? That’s totally fine, too — just comment with the name/alias you’d like to be known as on the participants list instead.


Sign Up for the Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along!

December 4, 2016 Books 8

As I mentioned last month, I intend to re-read Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy ‘Wheel of Time’ series starting this coming January. This is your official invitation to join me!

Please note: You do not have to have read the series previously to participate in this read-along. I’m only calling it a “Re-Read-Along” because it’s a re-read for me and I’m self-absorbed like that.

I’ll be reading at a pace of 1 book per month. The series includes 14 books + a prequel. But hey, I am a firm believer in the “you do you” school of book blogging. If you want to read faster or slower than that, it’s totally up to you. This read-along is really all about fostering discussion/camaraderie/mutual misery enjoyment.

You can see my official read-along page with the schedule and brief summaries of each book here:

wot_reread

How can you participate? It’s really up to you! Personally, I will be posting a brief review + discussion topic each month after reading a book in the series. You can join in the discussion in the comments on my blog, post about the book on your own blog, share your thoughts on the Lone Star on a Lark Facebook page, @ me on Twitter, scream into the void, whatever.

But that is a lot of books, what if I do not have the money/space for all this? First of all, go to your damn library. Secondly, all of the WoT books are available as ebooks (both EPUB and Kindle formats), which happen to be DRM-free because the publisher Tor is cool like that.


Want to be included in that participants list? Please leave a comment on this post with a link to (a) your own blog page where you will track your reading, (b) your blog tag or category for read-along posts, or (c) a Goodreads shelf or LibraryThing collection/tag or similar.

(Please do not add links for individual book review posts. This is meant to be an “umbrella” link that can be included on the official read-along page.)

Not tracking your reading online? That’s totally fine, too — just comment with the name/alias you’d like to be known as on the participants list instead.


Nonfiction November Week 5

November 28, 2016 Books 18

nonficnovember

The point of Nonfiction November is to read, discuss, and otherwise celebrate all the awesome nonfic lit out there. The hosts have decided on weekly blog post topics, and this week’s topic is….

New to My TBR

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

kalanithi_wbbakean_violiniststhumbwasik_rabid

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls, recommended by Toady @ B.B. Toady

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova and The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean, recommended by Amanda @ A Bookshelf Monstrosity

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, recommended by Ellie @ Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

eatwell_ddswmcoconnell_americanplatereiss_blackcount

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue by Piu Marie Eatwell, recommended by Amanda @ Gun in Act One

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites by Libby H. O’Connell, recommended by JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss, recommended by Brandy @ Reading Beyond

vanreybrouck_congoburrough_bigrichgaines_magnoliastory

Congo: The Epic History of a People by David Van Reybrouck and Everfair by Nisi Shawl, recommended by Jenny @ Reading the End

The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough and The After Party by Anton DiSclafani, recommended by Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines, recommended by Stacey @ Unruly Reader

I also added a few more to my Goodreads to-read list, but I am TERRIBLE about noting who recommended what, so… if you know that you are the one who nudged me towards a certain book, please feel free to nudge me to add your name as the recommending party as well!

I was so proud of myself just a few months ago when I got my TBR list down to 1,040… and now it’s back up over 1,070 already! I BLAME YOU ALL.