Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly

I've read Barbara Hambly before, and enjoyed her writing, although it has been years since I picked up one of her books.  I found Bride of the Rat God on Net Galley and decided it sounded quirky enough that I had to read it.

Here's what I enjoyed about this book:

*It takes place in Hollywood, 1923.  What a fantastic time to be in Hollywood!  Silent movies were all the rage, and Hollywood was still a magical place.

*The pekingese dogs.  Loved them.  The three dogs: Buttercreme, Black Jasmine, and Chang Ming are a major part of this novel, and have a few surprises of their own.  Protecting Norah and Christine are their jobs. These are not your typical dogs.

*The Chinese mythology.  Oh, I loved this!  Shang Ko is a mysterious old Chinese man. His magical talents have been severely damaged by fighting evil forces in his youth, and he tries to warn Christine and Norah about the danger they are in, but will he be too late?  Learned a lot about Chinese mythology.  Want to know more.

This novel is not new.  It's been reissued as an e-book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it--a pure novel of escape.  Norah, a English widow, is in Hollywood as an assistant to her sister-in-law, Christine.  Christine, known to fans as Chrysanda, is a silent movie actress who enjoys all the trappings of her job:  an affair with her studio boss, lots of money, drugs, and drink.  She's actually a pretty interesting character, and as the novel progresses, you see what's behind the facade of silent movie star.  Norah's job is to keep Christine on time for her commitments, get enough sleep, and make the right choices.  This can be an exhausting job.

Enter the necklace.  Christine wears an opal necklace in one of her films.  It's beautiful, but deadly.  It's cursed.  Anyone who wears it is marked at the next Bride of the Rat God.  And they don't die pretty.  Norah knows something just isn't quite right, but takes quite a bit of the novel to figure it out.  When she does, it will take the combined efforts of Norah, Christine, Shang Ko, and Alec, Norah's potential new beau to keep Christine from becoming the next victim.  

Lots of fun for anyone who likes old Hollywood, silent films, Chinese mythology, and an interesting read.

Rating?  4/5 for originality and combining old Hollywood with Chinese mythology.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd

Sarum was my ginormous book to read this year, and like all good books that are huge, it took me awhile to read it.  But it was well worth the journey.

Sarum is about the Salisbury area of England, and this novel is about 10,000 years of history in that area.  Let me tell you--a lot of stuff goes on.  It is told in chunks of time that eventually focus on 5 families in the area, who are the descendants of the neolithic men who moved down to Sarum looking for a way over to the European continent--which at the time was a place with better hunting and more people.   Unfortunately, when they got to the coast, the land bridge had disappeared.  They were stuck on an island.  

But they were stuck in a pretty good spot.  There is so much to this area that I can only say that I must go there sometime soon so I can see it all for myself.  This novel is chock full of descriptions of the people, places, and lives they lived from neolithic times until the 1960's.  Each of the five families:  The Wilsons, Godfreys, Masons, Porters and the Shockleys appear in each story after the beginnings of the novel, as time goes by and Sarum goes through many changes:  from an desolate Roman outpost  where Roman soldiers intermarry with the local Celtic families, to the dark days of invasion and plague and the glorious building of Salisbury Cathedral.  What are my favorite parts of the novel?  Well, certainly the Roman times, when Sarum was known as Sorviodunum, and before that, when Stonehenge was built.  These two time periods were by far my favorite parts of the novel.  The building of the cathedral, and the fact that is took 50 years to build is told through the eyes of the original Mason--a young man who is determined to stay alive until the cathedral is finally finished.  For those people who can't stick with a job for even a few years, can you imagine working on the same project for 50?!  

There are some things about this novel that may turn people off, and those I understand.  The sheer time period is mind-boggling.  It is not a book you can put down for days, then pick up again.  There's too much going on and you'll quickly be thumbing back to remember what was going on.  And every 100 pages or so, a time period ends, you say goodbye to those characters, and move onto another time period--sometimes hundreds of years in the future.  So there is much "getting to know more characters" and in that respect, it's almost like this is a novel comprised of short stories linked together by one place.  It is a novel that will teach you everything about Salisbury, about families, and how we all carry the past within us--usually not even knowing what it is we carry within.  How well do we know our ancestors?  How much have we forgotten?  And Rutherfurd's amazing and detailed descriptions of the area throughout the novel really put you there, smelling, tasting, and experiencing each time period and its particular essence.  Some are more smelly than others.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in history, loves historical fiction, and is willing to dedicate a few weeks to an amazing novel.  It really is fantastic.  I was happy to finally finish, but at the same time, I think back to all the characters, and feel a bit of nostalgia--that's my sign of a good book. 

Rating:  5/5 for sheer fantastic storytelling.  Don't be daunted by the size of the book, or the time frame.  Just take notes!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

So, How Did I Do? And What's In Store This Week

I set myself a goal to read 8 books in from May 1st to the 15th.  I managed to read 6 of them; considering how busy I've been, I will take that as a good thing. I finished Deep Down by Karen Harper this morning--another book off the shelf!  It was a very different read--about the wild ginseng business in Kentucky.  Who knew it even existed?  I certainly didn't.  The love story between Jessica and Drew was minimal, but fit the story.  It was a romantic suspense novel from 2007 and I enjoyed it, I learned something completely new, and I got another book off my shelf.  A success all around.

What's in store for the next week?  Well, I still have so many things happening that I'm finding it hard to cram in all the reading I want.  It's making me a bit crabby.  I just can't stay awake at night!  But I loaded up my Nook with a lot of books from Netgalley and another source I'm lucky to have thanks to my place of employment!  I'm taking my Nook on vacation with me, along with a few bound books (cause I just can't take the chance of only having e-books!) so here's what I'm going to try and read over the next  2 weeks and on vacation:

Still have the 2 to finish from last week's list, but otherwise everything is on my Nook--except for Shadow of Night, which I was lucky enough to receive as a bound galley.  Woohoo!!  

What are you reading?  What's your most anticipated read for the summer?

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

I love to read books for kids.  I don't care if I'm not a kid.  After reading some heavy stuff, it's always refreshing to "clean the palate" with a novel written for the younger set.  

This novel was recommended by a co-worker who reads a lot of young reader books.  She's got two young boys and she's always looking for something fun they can read together.

This book is definitely one that is not for little kids!  I'd say probably around the ages of 9-11 for sure.  Why?  Cause while it's a hoot and very amusing, it is a bit bloody.  But you've been warned by the author, over and over again that things will get unpleasant.  It's reminiscent of the Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket.  It makes you grin and wince at the same time.
This is the tale of Hansel and Gretel.  Not the one we've grown up reading, but a bit expanded and enhanced.  Hansel and Gretel are twins who are born to a King and Queen in the Kingdom of Grimm.  Their life is great until their father cuts their heads off in order to save a faithful servant.  Yep.  He does that.  They are put back together again, but realize what their father has done, and decide to run away.  This is where their adventures begin, as they travel from the chocolate cake house in the woods to other lands and other adventures, often times encountering horrible people doing horrible things that only occur in fairy tales dark and grimm.  But through it all, they remain constant in their faith and sense of what's right.  Courage is a main theme in their lives.

I throughly enjoyed this book--it's the kind of tale I would have read as a kid.  But I don't think my Mom would have let me read it. She would have felt it was too gory.  Nah. It's not scary, and it does have some wonderful points about loyalty, faithfulness, and family.  The humor is definitely dark but not overbearing.  This is nothing that will give a child nightmares--unless they are too young to read it!  

I look forward to seeing what else this author writes.  According to the blurb on the back cover, he's a school teacher in Brooklyn.  I'm sure he's got many more ideas for great stories!

Rating:  3/5  Enjoyable read for slightly older kids who will not be frightened by a bit of blood and gore.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lessons in Laughing Out Loud by Rowan Coleman

Willow Briars is a 39 year old woman living in London, working at a talent agency, and is so unhappy she doesn't even realize it.  Until a pair of shoes and a ratty old fur coat wake her up to her life--then all sorts of crazy happens.

Her stepdaughter Chloe appears outside her door one night--fifteen and six months pregnant.  Willow hasn't seen her in five years--since the day she left her marriage to Sam, Chloe's father.

Willow is tasked with keeping the latest hot hot young movie star, India Torrance hidden at her flat while India's affair with a much older (and married) co-star makes headlines and potentially ruins her career.  Willow is now stuck with a young pregnant stepdaughter who's very angry at Willow, and a weepy movie star who is at the mercy of Willow's boss; crazy  Victoria spins India's story for money and to rescue India's future career as a movie star.  Phew.  There's a lot going on in the first 100 pages.

And enter Daniel--he's a gorgeous American who's been Willow's crush for years. He's a womanizer who always comes back to Willow for friendship and comfort.  Will they ever get together?  Does Willow really need him?  And what about his friend, Serious James?  He's only met Willow a few times, but he's quietly in love with her and doesn't quite know how to convince her he's sincere.

Willow's world begins to spin crazily out of control once she steps in a pair of beautiful shoes she finds in an out of the way vintage shop.  Add in a fox coat from the same place, and she's suddenly slimmer, taller, and attracting all sorts of attention.  Are they magic shoes?  Or just a way for Willow to finally deal with the fact that she's terribly unhappy and hasn't laughed out loud for years?

Lots of questions are answered in this novel.  I do really like Willow, and her identical twin sister, Holly.  Willow and Holly are extremely close, but Willow always feels that Holly is the one who keeps things calm and always knows just what to say--besides the fact that she's a slim version of Willow.  Willow's past is haunting her, and she's incapable of letting love in and being happy.  Follow her tale as she works to accept and love herself with the help of Chloe, Sam, Holly, and Serious James.  Daniel is a bit of a problem--one who can derail her future, if she chooses.

I enjoyed this novel--especially after reading Sarum!  Night and day.  I did expect a bit more lightness to this, and it did get very serious with many issues regarding Willow's past and Chloe's pregnancy.  It does, however, highlight the terrible disease women today have of not believing in themselves and loving themselves wholeheartedly.  Being happy is not something that only other people have--it's what we all want, and all can have if we just take chances and believe we are worth it.

Rating:  3/5 Liked all the characters, but book did have serious issues come up that I wasn't quite prepared for--cover was a bit deceptive.  Otherwise a good read for weekend.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Book Reads: Weeks One & Two

I've decided that in order to try and have some control over my book piles, I'm going to pick out what I'm going to read for the next two weeks and post it.  I like to make lists, but then don't pay attention to them, so this will be a challenge for me to read what I've committed to on this blog post!  So, without further ado, here are my reading choices for May 1-15:  

Not so fun Grimm's Fairy Tales

Mystery in Kentucky

Local author

Can shoes change your life?

Teen novel based on Poe

Viking, Scotland, Mystery!

Taking on healthy living

Book three!  Love this series

I know!  It's a lot!  But a few I've started, then put down.  So I'm picking up and finishing The Prophet, Here Lies Linc,  and Masque of the Red Death.  Deep Down is a read off the shelf, as is A Tale Dark and Grimm.  I can't wait to dive into The Island House; it combines some of my favorite things:  archaeology, Scotland, and mysterious doings.  

Let's hope I can read them all in the next two weeks.  It's a bit ambitious for me, but now that I've finished Sarum (review coming soon!), I can focus on other books.  Between work, gardening, running, and daily living, this shall be a full two weeks.