Friday, August 30, 2013

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

I saw this book in hardcover last year and just didn't get to it on my reading list.  Now it's in paperback, so I have no excuse not to pick it up and read it.

This is my first Jim C. Hines book, but it probably won't be the last.  He's got a quirky sense of humor, and combine that with the ability to pull objects out of books to make magic and you've got me pulled in without any question.

Libriomancer is the first book in the Magic ex Libris series.  Book two, Codex Born, just came out in hardcover a few weeks ago.  If you are a lover of books--and any kind of books--you will enjoy this novel about Isaac, a libriomancer.  Libriomancers are people who belong to an organization founded by Johannes Gutenberg to keep the world safe from all of the creatures found in books.  As more and more people read a book, their belief and imagination fires up that book, and those creatures and objects in the books become magical.  A libriomancer can literally pull them out of a book.  And so can the bad guys.  Some books are so dangerous that Johannes Gutenberg has locked them magically forever, so no one can use them for nefarious purposes.  

But someone has been very busy, and Johannes Gutenberg is missing.  Did I tell you he's still alive after all these years?  Yep.  Put that down to the magic of books.  I won't tell you more so you can discover for yourself how this all happens.  Once you start thinking about all the books you've read in a magical sense, it can become dizzying to ask the question: "What if I could reach in and pull out, say, a pot of gold?  Or a magic sword?  Or even a light saber?"  

All this magic has a price to pay, and Isaac has been banned to a small library in Michigan after making a huge error as a libriomancer a few years before.  He is forbidden to practice magic, and has followed the rules.

Until vampires show up and try to kill him.  Vampires from books, you see.

This was a fun read, chock full of authors and books you will recognize no matter what you read.  It gets a bit convoluted so you really do have to pay attention.  And Isaac's love interest (which fits nicely in the story)  Lena, a dryad who is one with trees, makes an interesting flip side to natural magic.  She's also on the cover of the second book.  

I think teens would enjoy this, along with anyone who has a life-long passion for books.  You don't have to be a sci-fi/fantasy fan to pick this up.  So go give it a try!

Rating:  7/10 for a brilliant idea about books and magic, room to grow the story in a series, and characters you enjoy and care about.  

Available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Rest of the Year: A Challenging Reading Goal and Learning Excel So I Keep My Sanity

Learning Excel is one of my goals in the next few months.  I realize it is an excellent tool to use for most anything; especially trying to organize my books in some kind of order.  I think I'll be asking my sister for some quick lessons on Excel...

Going back to school is no doubt going to cut into my reading time.  I like to be organized, but will only take it so far.  I try and plan my reading, but then something shiny and pretty comes along and bumps the rest of the books back a few spaces in my "to be read" mental file.  And then they disappear into the stacks on my shelves and on the floor. I figure the discipline of school will push me into being a bit more organized and working from a plan for reading, reviewing, and blogging about my books.

So....I'm still going to read what I want to read.  I've gone through the stacks on my floor and listed all the books on Excel.  That's as far as I've gotten in that process, since I am clueless on spreadsheets.  But not for long!  And when that happens, I am going to go down my list, one by one, and read what I've got, post reviews, and either keep the book, give it away, or sell it.  I culled many titles earlier this year from my bookcases, but they've gotten away from me again.  Funny how books multiply, right?  And I rarely only buy one book at a time, so the stacks quickly pile up.  And when my boyfriend Bud comments on the books, I know I need to take action.  He's not a reader, and rarely says anything about my books--so a notice from him is a heads up to clean up my space.  

School, upcoming book talks at work, and my blog will certainly keep my world of books hopping.  I'm sticking with my goal of reading 100 books this year; I'll hit 80 by the end of August (fingers crossed!).  I'm glad I lowered my goal from last year; I simply won't be able to read as much as I want.  Retail Christmas usually means the whole month of December I stumble home from work and fall asleep on the couch at 5 PM.  I give myself through November to hit my yearly goal for this very reason.  Even though I so want to read, I just can't keep my eyes open in December.  

With that being said, I'm off to read before I head to my first day of classes this afternoon.  A review will be up by the end of the week!  

How do you keep your books organized?  Do you even try?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Well.  This one is certainly worthy of a book club discussion or two.  The "wife" in this novel is Jodi, who has lived with Todd for 20 years.  They've never married; Todd wanted to get married, Jodi never did due to issues with her childhood.  No kids.  Again, Jodi didn't want them.  She keeps a tight reign over her emotions, her life, and her part-time practice as a psychologist.  She lives a good life with Todd as long as she ignores his chronic cheating.

Todd is struggling through bouts of depression; his inability to stay faithful to Jodi is never an issue with him.  It's just the way he is and he offers no excuse for it.  They have an unwritten rule:  it's never talked about directly; innuendoes are used to refer to his overnight trips and weekends away; and unbeknownst to him, Jodi gets back by doing little things to Todd that make his life miserable for brief moments of time.  He has no idea Jodi is behind such small things; small blips that disrupt his daily schedule.

Until the day his young girlfriend tells him she's pregnant and they have to get married.  

This is the turning point in the story; this is the beginning of the descent on the highest hill of the roller coaster.  Todd and Jodi are nuts.  Plain and simple.  Both are so fundamentally damaged they can't even begin to see it.  And this will cost them both.

This novel is a quick read; you will find that you don't like anyone in the novel.  Not one person.  There is no one to like.  It makes you wonder just how many people are clinging to a life they think they want and ignoring all the wrong things that are in it.  

Read it.  Discuss it with someone.  It is a page turner, and it will leave you dwelling on the story of Todd and Jodi for a long time.

Rating:  8/10 for a few twists and turns, and characters that are deeply flawed and don't even know it.  

Available in paperback and e-book

Monday, August 19, 2013

And the Winner of The Girl You Left Behind is.....

The winner of The Girl You Left Behind is......


Ashley, please email me your address and full name so we can get you your copy of this hard to put down novel.  My email is:  supersue66@gmaildotcom.

Thanks everyone for entering the contest.  Keep reading and watching for more giveaways in the future.

If you didn't win, read this book anyway!  It's out tomorrow, August 20th in hardcover and e-book.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Love and Lament by John Milliken Thompson

This novel got my attention because it's about a young woman growing up in the post-Civil War South and follows her life into  a new century and World War I.  I didn't realize quite how much I would connect with Mary Bet Hartsoe until the very end of the novel, when this very moving sentence had me reaching for the tissues:

"It would have to be enough, then, to know, as her father did, that grief lasts as long as memory, though the tissue of life grow around it like a wound protected from the world and shielded from the heart.  Grief and love are the only things that endure."

Oh Mary Bet, I understand completely.  She's a wonderful character:  honest, strong, and independent.  She comes from a family of 9 children, and as she reaches the age of 15, most of her siblings are dead.  I come from a family of 10 kids; a brother and a sister passed on years before I was even a thought; they've been gone since the 1950's--what seems like so long ago.  Only my oldest brother and sister remember Kim and Mark.  

Mary Bet  finds herself and her brother Siler the only remaining siblings; Siler is older and attends a school for the deaf 150 miles away.  He's always been extremely talented in fixing things up around their home; they have a way of using their hands to speak to each other--their own sign language.  He's a smart young man, but tormented by the idea that he may end up losing his mind like their father and grandfather.  Does grief affect their minds, or is it really mental illness?  How do you know?

Siler's decision to take a walk on railroad tracks one day haunts Mary Bet for years afterwards.  Why did he do that?  What was he thinking?  Did he deliberately not feel the train coming, or was he so lost in thoughts that he was caught off guard? Was it an impulsive decision, or long thought out?  She feels guilty, like she missed a sign from Siler.  When my sister Patti passed away last October, so suddenly, so heartbreaking,  with so many unanswered questions, I didn't think I would ever know peace about it.  And maybe I still don't--maybe that road is still unfolding, and the journey I need to take is not over.  I get Mary Bet.  I'm sorry if I spoiled a bit of the story for you, but Siler's  story so resonated with me that I had to share that with my readers.  It is a crucial turning point in the novel and connects you to Mary Bet's grief and love.

This novel came at a good time for me.  I don't think I could have read it a few months ago without putting it down and not returning to finish it.  It was at times painful to read--how does someone keep moving on with all that sorrow? I've never wanted to think about losing any of my siblings, but it did happen sooner than any of us expected.  While I have always held a spot in my heart for my brother and sister born and died so long ago, long before I was born, losing Patti was painful on a level I had never experienced before.  I do not want to experience that again.  I plan on all my brothers and sisters staying healthy and vital until we're each in our 90's.  

So.  I did love this novel.  It was a bit healing for me to read about Mary Bet, her family, and her life in North Carolina.  At the end, she is hopeful. And really, that is all we can ask for sometimes.  I would recommend this for anyone who loves to read about the South, young women finding their voices in the early 20th century, and a well written, sweetly sad story.

Rating:  7/10 for wonderful characters--especially Mary Bet and her father; a quick pace, and a peek into life as a single woman in the early 1900's.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes--Giveaway!!

I have found another author that I love.  Yep.  JoJo Moyes.  I read The Last Letter from Your Lover a few years ago and throughly enjoyed it; but really this novel firmly puts her on my list of authors that I will keep reading faithfully every time a new book comes out!

And you, lucky reader, can enter my contest to win a copy of The Girl You Left Behind!  It is on sale Tuesday, August 20th.  I was lucky to receive a review copy from Penguin/Viking--they are awesome people.

I won't tell you much about the novel, cause I want you to discover the stories of Sophie and Liv--two women who live almost 100 years apart and are connected by a painting of Sophie lost during World War I.  Sophie's story of a German occupied France is heartbreaking; the choices she makes to find her husband make you wonder:  what would you do to find the man you loved?  And Liv, a widow still grieving over her husband years after his death.  Sophie's painting is the only thing that keeps her connected to David--and it is the subject of a tug of war between Liv and Sophie's relatives.  How do two women living 100 years apart have anything in common?  You'd be surprised.  

I am a new found fan of JoJo Moyes.  Her writing will quickly pull you into the lives of her characters; you'll laugh, cry, and keep reading with fingers crossed for a happy outcome.  This novel is particularly interesting because it  deals with stolen art from World War I.  Most of us are familiar with all of the claims from families who lost significant pieces of art to the Nazis during World War 2; we see that it didn't start then; this is something that has happened throughout history.  It also delves into the complicated motives behind the reparation business--are people merely trying to find family pieces to put the past to rest and have justice?  Or are they only out for the money the art brings at auction?

So.  I believe this novel could be your next favorite read.  And you can win a copy from me!  How awesome is that?  Here's what you do:

Leave a comment on this post.  What author have you discovered this year that has become a favorite?  

Please make sure that if you enter, you check back to see who wins!  

Winner will be announced on Monday, August 19th.  

Open to U.S. residents only.  

Good luck!  

Rating:  8/10; compelling story.  Your heart will ache for Sophie and you hope like heck that Liv can find happiness again.  

Available in hardcover on August 20th; also available as an e-book.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford

Once again, I've delved into the mystery section of our bookstore.  And again, I have been pleasantly surprised.  

This is a short review.  I like to keep mysteries mysterious!

What if Jane Austen was murdered, and didn't die from an unknown illness?  How would it ever be proved, and who would be able to do it?

Meet Anne Sharp, close friend of Jane, and former governess to Jane's  brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth's young children.  Meeting Jane at Godmersham, Edward's estate, in 1805 began a firm friendship that was tested by suspicion and untimely deaths in the Austen family.  

Starting 26 years after Jane's death, Anne begins to start putting the pieces together, remembering back to her time with the Austen family and what she saw--were her suspicions of Henry, Jane's brother, correct?  How much does Jane know, or does she wish to remain oblivious to her brother's shenanigans?  Does Anne dare to confide in Jane?  

Oh, this mystery is quite entertaining.  We think of Jane as a figure that everyone loves, but there may have been some who did not--in fact, they wished her dead.  But why?  

This novel was published in the UK and "sparked an international debate and uproar."  What few facts are known about Jane's death are mysterious, indeed.    You will read this and want to delve into biographies about Jane and her family--she had a sister and at least 3 brothers; many nieces and nephews, and so many friends and acquaintances.  Lots of intrigue, forbidden love, and frustrations as clever, gifted women are left languishing on the side; unwed and deemed old maids by the age of 25.  

Read this if you're a fan of Jane Austen--and even if you're not.  Historical mystery lovers will enjoy this, too.  It's smartly written and leaves you wondering....how did Jane die?  

Rating:  7/10 for an interesting plot, characters that are well developed and complex, and an ending that leaves you eager to explore the world and life of Jane Austen.

Available in paperback and e-book.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Can I Possibly Read Everything This Month?

I spend pretty much most of my spare time reading.  I can't help myself.  And just when I think I may be actually catching up, I find more books to read and end up with a huge pile of books lying next to my bed.  The current pile has doubled in the past week alone.  I can't seem to sit and read any one book for more than a day or two before I pick up another one.  I am out of control!  I think I have about 6 books started, half finished, and almost-finished.  

The reason for my book freak out is because I am starting graduate school in 3 weeks and I am trying to cram in as much reading as possible before school starts.  I have no idea just how much school work I will have--but I suspect it will be enough to seriously put a dent into my reading.  And with every day of the week either working or at school, I won't have a huge chunk of time to just sit and read.  Unless I learn to live on no sleep at all.  Has anyone figured out how to do that?  Let me know, please!

For now, I'm attempting to read all of these books by the end of next week:

Book giveaway next week!!

Wow.  I didn't realize how much I have on my plate.  I am going to be giving away a copy of JoJo Moyes' The Girl You Left Behind next week, so watch for details and enter!  Contest will start on Monday, August 12th.  

I think this is a good mix of stories for this week.  What are you reading?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

This novel was a no-brainer choice for me:  it takes place in Iowa, and is by an Iowa author.  And it has a dual story line involving two women accused of murder 110 years apart.

Kate meets Joe online, falls in love and marries him.  Joe Krause is  the last farmer in a 140 year history of the Krause family, and she's about to start a new life as his wife on the family farm.

Kate's dream is rudely shaken when she arrives at Joe's farmhouse to find his mother,  Trudy, waiting for them.  It appears that she lives there along with Joe, and has no intention of moving out.  She's a nasty piece of work and one of those women who cling to their sons with both hands--unwilling to let any other woman into his life.  

Kate struggles to get along with Trudy and find her place on the farm.  Her relationship with Joe isn't what she pictured, and she soon finds out that the Krause family has a dark past.  

That dark past started with Jacob and Hannah Krause.  In 1890 they live on the Krause farm.  Jacob has an adult son, Joseph, and Hannah is his second wife.  Her son, Willie, is pretty young and loves his mother.  Jacob is an abusive, mean, and horrible man who constantly puts Hannah down.  The town has turned their back on Hannah and ignores the obvious signs of abuse.  Joseph is equally as mean as his father, and hates Hannah.  

One night, Hannah wakes up.  Her husband sleeps beside her.  She walks downstairs and finds the kitchen door open, but no sign of anyone else in the house.  Going back up to bed, she finds a horrible sight:  her husband is dead in bed, a knife in his body.  Who killed him?  And why?

These two women are connected by this farm, and it seems that history may repeat itself.  Can Kate find out the family curse and stop it?  Can she find happiness with Joe and make peace with his mother?

This is what I call a "light thriller".  There is a little bit of mystery, and I did like the story of Hannah.  Kate at first seems like she's willing to let everyone walk all over her and that kinda annoyed me.  But she does find her inner tough girl and I really enjoyed seeing her growth throughout the novel.  

And Hannah.  Poor Hannah.  She also finds her voice--as you will see.  Her story is sad, but really turns out in a satisfying way.  The sins of the father, indeed.  Read it and you'll know what I mean.

Available in paperback and e-book

Rating:  6/10  A light read about women living in a small town, struggling to find their voices, and stand up for what is right.  Also a great story about family tragedies haunting generations.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

And the Winner of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is....

The winner is.....Jessica Longwisch!

Jessica, email me at supersue66@gmaildotcom

with your address and I will send it to the publisher!  

Congratulations and thanks to Viking/Penguin for the contest.  Here's a conversation with Emily Croy Barker about her book:

Emily Croy Barker, author of
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking; on-sale August 5, 2013; 9780670023660; $27.95

Q. Which of the characters in THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC did you most enjoy writing?

A. Aruendiel, no question. He says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn’t mind giving offense to anyone. Not something that most of us can get away with in our daily lives.

Of course, Ilissa was also a lot of fun, too. Because she’s also honest—Faitoren can’t tell lies—but at the same time, she’s thoroughly deceitful.

Q. Are any parts of this novel autobiographical?

A. You mean, is it about the time I stumbled into an alternate world and started studying magic? Sadly, no. 

There were things in my life that I deliberately borrowed for the novel. The way Aruendiel talks about other magicians—I was thinking of how my father, who was a painter, used to talk with his artist friends about other artists, about who was doing good work and who wasn’t. My dad was the kindest and most gentle person ever, but he was ruthless when it came to criticizing bad art. It’s the idea that you have a calling that you have to follow and you don’t sell out.

I gave Nora some of my interests—a penchant for memorizing bits of poetry, a love of cooking—although she’s much better at both things than I am. She’s also braver than me. You could never get me to go up a cliff like the one at Maarikok, even with a levitation spell! And I let her take a path that I considered but never took—going to grad school in English. 

Q. Your heroine, Nora Fischer, is swept away by magic into a kind of too good to be true existence.  Even though a part of her knew it wasn’t right she stayed.  Why would she allow herself to be easily enchanted?

A. As Aruendiel himself would point out, Faitoren enchantments are very hard to fight, because they give you something you want. Nora was feeling bruised and defeated, and suddenly she had everything that she thought she was missing. 

I also think the kind of idealized femininity that Ilissa offers Nora—being beautiful, being the belle of the ball, having this perfect romantic love—is a very seductive thing, even for someone like Nora who has read all the feminist theorists and has really chosen the life of the mind. Maybe especially for someone like Nora.

Q. You have so many literary references, John Donne, Miguel de Cervantes, William Carlos Williams, Alice in Wonderland and Grimm’s Fairytales, but it’s Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice that Nora ends up with as her only possession in the alternate world.  What is the significance of this particular book?  Any personal connection to it?

A. Well, Pride and Prejudice is so modern in many ways, although written and set in a premodern time. So it seemed like a good match for A Thinking Woman’s Guide, where a contemporary woman is thrown into a world where women are still second-class citizens, at best. And Pride and Prejudice reflects some of the themes that I was interested in—an intelligent woman engaging with a man who has both higher status and worse manners than she does—without being too closely parallel to the plot of my story. Finally, I love Pride and Prejudice! And so do many other readers. So I hoped it might resonate with those who read my novel.

Q. Words are a powerful tool and language is a very important status symbol in Nora’s new world. Women are uneducated and don’t speak to men the same way Nora does; something she is repeatedly frustrated by.  How did you develop Ors, the language Nora must learn in order to communicate?

A. Language reflects society, so as I thought about Aruendiel’s world, I tried to imagine what sort of linguistic rules it would have to help keep women in their place. And as anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there are all kinds of subtleties that you don’t pick up right away. You can make blooper after blooper, sometimes for years. So Nora keeps bumping up against things like the feminine verb endings, which she never noticed until Aruendiel rather officiously points them out to her.

I was also inspired by how Tolkien, who was a philologist, essentially began imagining Middle-Earth by inventing various Elvish names. He wrote poems about these characters and, eventually, fiction. I thought, wow, what a powerful tool to create a believable fantasy universe, to develop some kind of logical linguistic framework that underlies your story. 

Q. You’re a journalist by trade. What was it like, switching to fiction? Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes? 

A. It took me a while to feel comfortable writing fiction. It’s a different kind of narration. Suddenly, after years of having to be super-careful about collecting facts and double-checking them, I could make everything up. That felt wonderful! But what exactly do you include, what do you leave out? Beginning writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell.” Well, in fact there’s a lot you have to simply tell, or you’ll write twenty pages and your character will still be finishing breakfast.

The journalistic skill that I found most useful in writing fiction was simply the ability to sit in front of the computer and write. Even if you’re just trying to write, even if what you’re writing isn’t great at the moment or if all you have to show after three hours is three sentences. And then to do it again the next day. It doesn’t matter if you have to rewrite it all over again—because you’ll find something that’s worth keeping, or you’ll learn what not to do. The important thing is to keep going. 

Usually I write at home on my laptop—sometimes on the train when I travel. I write best during the day. If I try to write at night, I’m usually too tired to get very far. Or occasionally I’ve had the opposite problem—I get really into it and then suddenly it’s way past my bedtime and I’m useless the next day. So starting out, I wrote for a couple of hours every weekend. Then it became every spare moment of every weekend. I still owe huge apologies to so many of my friends for turning down all their lovely invitations to go to museums, parties, movies, et cetera, over the past seven years.

Q. Who would be in your dream book club? Where would you meet and what would you talk about?

A. Henry James, Charlotte Brontë, Scott Fitzgerald, Mary McCarthy, Zadie Smith, and couple of my friends. We’d meet at Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco every third Tuesday in the month—this is a dream, right?—and talk about whatever I happen to be reading at the moment. I imagine it would be a lively group.

Q. Are you a fan of other fantasy novels?

A. Yes, although I certainly haven’t read everything that’s out there. I tend to like the denser, more literary kind of fantasy. Unlike Nora, I love Tolkien. Also Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Alice Hoffman, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, and Kelly Link. Kate Atkinson is best known now for her Jackson Brodie mysteries, but I’m really glad that I didn’t read her Human Croquet until after I wrote The Thinking Woman’s Guide, because in some ways that’s the book I wanted to write.

Q. Your writing is loaded with references from history, literature, and fantasy. What sort of reader did you envision for this series?

A. I tried to write the kind of novel I would want to read, so I guess in that sense I wrote it for myself. And as the book took shape and it became clearer that I would actually finish a draft at some point, I decided I would send it first to one of my oldest friends to see if she thought it was any good.  She and I grew up watching Star Trek and Monty Python, reading Sherlock Holmes and The Black Stallion and Jane Eyre, and doing the ultimate in geekdom—taking Latin—so I trusted her judgment. She liked it, so that encouraged me to keep revising.

Beyond that, I was thinking that it might appeal to some of the adults who loved Harry Potter but who wanted more of a adult perspective and a strong female character at the center of the novel.

Q. The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic ends on a cliffhanger. Can you hint at what’s next for Nora and Aruendiel?

A. I’m pretty sure that Nora will find her way back to Aruendiel’s world. The two of them really need to talk and to be straight with each other, don’t you agree? And of course she has a lot more to learn about magic—and how to use it properly. 

For more information please contact:
Meredith Burks, Meredith.Burks@us.penguingroup.com, 212-366-2275