Across the Universe by Beth Revis

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Across the Universe by Beth RevisAcross the Universe by Beth Revis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

A delightful surprise!

This book was not at all what I was expecting. The story is a compelling blend of science fiction, mystery, love, secrets, intrigue and more all unfolding within a society specifically engineered for life on a generation ship – Godspeed. Thoughtful and exciting, parts of the story will keep you guessing until the very end!

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Chime by Franny Billingsley

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Chime by Franny BillingsleyChime by Franny Billingsley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

I admit when I first read the description of this book where the character of Eldric is described has having “golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair” I almost passed it by.  I was afraid I might be in for a glossy romance novel. (Not my thing).  However, several friends on Goodreads whose opinions I regard gave it high marks, so I decided there must be more to it.  There is.  And thankfully, none of it is glossy romance.

The characters are well-crafted and appropriately sympathetic, while the language used to describe them is in keeping with the setting of the novel.  And speaking of setting (The Swampse), I don’t recall when I’ve last encountered a book where the setting so thoroughly permeated the story that it felt like a character all by it self.  It is quite beautifully done.

The storyline is equally engaging.  It is as much an exciting mystery, full of danger and old swamp magic, as it is a thoughtful examination at the power guilt and shame have in affecting our experience and our memories.

I’m so glad I didn’t pass this one by.

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The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

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The 101 Most Influential People Who Never LivedThe 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived
by Allan Lazar, Jeremy Salter, Dan Karlan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I first came across this book I was hoping for a thought-provoking read about how we’ve influenced both our culture and social identity not only by the things we do, but by the things we make up.  Sounded intriguing!  And, as a college Philosophy major myself, when I learned the authors were also philosophers I expected to be in for a real treat.

I wasn’t.

In retrospect, I wish whoever wrote the preface had actually written the rest of the book.  The tone set in the preface is completely betrayed by the chapters which follow.  Have you ever been to see a movie you were really looking forward to watching only to have someone talk through it and completely ruin the experience for you?  Yeah.  This book was that for me.

As books of lists go, this is a good one with plenty of unexpected “influential” characters included.  Some are obvious and still others were delightful surprises.  I had more than a few “ah ha” moments reading it.  Nevertheless, on balance this book feels a lot like someone invested a great deal of time and research to create an interesting reference work then, fearing it was too boring, decided cracking jokes throughout it would liven things up.

It didn’t.

Sure, some of the humor actually is funny.  But the humor only helped me to a greater appreciation of the particular character being explored once.  Maybe twice.  In the whole book.  While most of the humor is too sarcastic to mistake (or to overlook), on the occasions when a more subtle form is employed I found it difficult to know if the authors were presenting some fascinating new little-known nugget of truth they had discovered or if they were just cracking jokes.  Again.

Based on my experience of the book, I actually considered giving this only one 1 star. However, the authors obviously put a lot of work into gathering this information.  And that’s worth a star all by itself.

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The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

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The Year of the Flood by Margaret AtwoodThe Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Year of the Flood is a dystopian novel told from the perspective two characters with different points of view. The first is a first person account from a character full of youthful innocence. The other is a third person account of a character, faithful, dutiful and full of survival wisdom born through life experience. The story shifts between these points of view as well as shifting in time from the days directly following ‘The Flood’ to the events during the years preceding it.

The Year of the Flood is a thoughtful exploration of a culture similar to 21st century western society yet even more deeply defined by vain consumerism and corporate power. Atwood doesn’t shy away from putting more than a few thumbs subtly in some deserving societal eyes without ever actually naming any names.

Beautiful writing, memorable characters and plenty of thoughtful insights offer the reader plenty of opportunities for reflection. If you’re looking for a thoughtful, well-written, dystopian novel, The Year of the Flood may be just what you’re looking for.

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The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates

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The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Nighttime Novelist is attractive to look at and is filled with lots of useful information for the aspiring novelist. Beneath its hardback cover I was surprised to discover its pages are actually spiral-bound. The information inside is organized in a tabbed format. Each page is filled with colorful text, decorative sidebars, and comment-style supplemental footnotes. In essence, the book is really designed very much like a scrapbook.

And that’s the problem.

No one actually “reads” a scrapbook. People flip through them. They admire the artistic way the scrapper put the pages together or they way they’ve arranged the various photos, captions, clippings and the like. But no one picks up a scrapbook when they want to learn or understand something.

To be fair, I tried on several occasions to just sit down and read it. I even tried picking out specific pages based on the table of contents so I could use it like a reference. Every time the “busy-ness” of its layout distracted me and I found myself absently flipping through the pages again and again. (Like a scrapbook.) This format may be quite engaging and even useful for some, but when I want to read a book on writing craft I want a book that reads more like, well, like a book.

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Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars!

Shades of Milk and Honey is a beautiful, skillfully crafted Regency era romance written in the style of Jane Austen . . . with magic.

In Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency era England young ladies of quality learn the subtle art of Glamour (magic) alongside other fine arts such as painting and playing the piano forte. Unlike typical magical adventure tales where the magic itself becomes a tool for power and influence, Shades of Milk and Honey is a classic period Romance, balancing passion and propriety while delicately weaving Glamour by threads and folds into the fabric of daily life. Here, magic is a synonymous with refined society, not with power and domination.

Shades of Milk and Honey is a delightful read, full of descriptive settings, elegant formal language and an ample amount of swooning. Kowal takes great care to establish a truly period piece, authentically rendering her characters and their sensibilities and even going so far as using period spelling in her prose.

In true Regency style, Kowal’s characters keep most of their true feelings and desires hidden from one another. Thus, while her characters strive to maintain propriety, seeking to express their better natures, the reader is free to enjoy all the rising dramatic tension resulting from their continually unresolved internal and external struggles. Thankfully, Kowal doesn’t weaken her story by appealing to modern sensibilities. There are no easy, emotionally cathartic shortcuts here. But fear not! Passion and Glamour do ultimately collide in an exciting climax and an emotionally satisfying dénouement; an ending I suspect Jane Austen herself would be proud of.

I’ve already read and enjoyed many of Mary Robinette Kowal’s short stories. Now, after reading Shades of Milk and Honey (her debut novel), I can’t wait to see what she’ll draw next from the ether of her imagination.

(At the time of this review Shades of Milk and Honey has been nominated for a RT Bookreview Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel.)

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The Black Prism (Lightbringer #1) by Brent Weeks

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The Black Prism by Brent Weeks The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

I gave this book a try based on a Goodreads recommendation (Thanks Mary!) and I am SO glad I did.  The world-building is amazing!  The magic system is painstakingly constructed so it’s both logical and consistent.  The plot is layered and gripping and the characters are beautifully drawn.  Each character is complicated and flawed in their own way, and despite some of their individual victories we still see them struggling with uncertainty and self-doubt.  I also love that the story doesn’t hold back when it comes to the complications of loyalty and trust among characters that keep cropping up, which is another key element that keeps the story racing along!  I enjoyed this one so much, as soon as I finished it I immediately went back and started it again.

I’ve already added Brent Weeks’  Night Angel Trilogy (and I don’t even like Ninjas) to my mental “must-read” list while I wait for the second installment of the Lightbringer trilogy.  It’s going to be a very difficult wait.

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Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

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Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis Elijah Of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautifully and lovingly told, the story of 11-year-old, free-born Elijah Freeman is one planted firmly amid the harsh reality of black slavery, yet rooted by an uplifting and enduring hope. Seeing the world through Elijah’s eyes in some ways is like seeing the world for the first time. Just spend a little time with Elijah and then you’ll understand.

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Short Fiction Review – First Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal

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First Flight by Mary Robinette KowalFirst Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always loved well-crafted, consistent time travel stories when the author successfully establishes a clear vision of how time travel works in their story and then tells a compelling tale which doesn’t betray it. First Flight is an enjoyable read both because it’s well-written, and because it quite pleasantly sidesteps the stereotypical “little old lady” archetype by featuring a strong and capable elderly woman as its main character – a depiction we would all be enriched by seeing more of from other writers.

“First Flight” is a 2010 Locus Award Finalist.

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Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

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Shiver by Maggie StiefvaterShiver by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to try this one based on the ratings and comments of my Goodreads friends though I was skeptical.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  I’m not at all into werewolf stories (this was my first in fact) and I was prepared for a tale of a dangerous werewolf boyfriend who’s bad but really good and just misunderstood.  Ack!

This story isn’t like that.

It’s first and foremost a love story, not a horror story.  What I appreciated the most is that the werewolves in this story aren’t “monsters”.  Unlike some stories where the protagonist’s risk of being murdered by their monster lover (should that lover give into their “true” nature) is somehow supposed to add to the elicit danger of the story, the power in this book is emotional as the protagonists themselves grapple with a reality that constantly threatens to keep them apart, yet neither character poses a direct threat of mortal danger to the other.

The writing is beautiful.  The characters are well-drawn, believably flawed and grow and change naturally as the story unfolds.

I’m definitely considering giving Linger a try.

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