Thursday, July 12, 2018

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Title: Spinning Silver
Author: Naomi Novik
Pages: 434
Finished: July 11, 2018

First Sentence: The real story isn't half as pretty as the one you've heard.

Summary: Miryam, a moneylender's daughter, boasts that she can spin silver into gold. Her boast attracts the Staryk King who lusts for the gold. Irina, daughter to a duke, isn't all that pretty, but she catches the eye of the Tsar. The evil Tsar who marries her to drink her soul. Wanda just wants to leave her home and her abusive father. The three women's tales interweave together as they figure out how to save the world from an endless winter during Medieval Russia.

Thoughts: I read an Advanced Reader's Copy, so some of my thoughts may not apply to the finished product.

This is a tale told with six different voices - three of which are more prevalent than the others. In my copy, there's no visual cue as to when the voices change other than a break in the text. It wasn't too difficult to figure out with context clues, but since the entire story is in first person, it was a bit jarring to jump to someone else without any clue that it was happening until I was about a paragraph into it.

The story itself is a loose retelling of Rumplestiltskin taking place in what I believe is Medieval Russia - similar to the Bear and the Nightengale trilogy. I LOVE this setting. I don't know much about ancient Slavic folktales, but I'm a huge fan of their influences in a number of the stories I've been reading.

I also think it's really bold to make the three female characters fairly unlikeable. Of course, I don't know if they're unlikeable because they're meant to be, or if they're unlikeable because we're socialized to believe that women like this are unlikeable. I will admit I almost quit reading because I just didn't find a lot that I liked in any of the main characters. I'm glad they were strong, but I really hate it when strong means angry towards the world.

The story starts out slowly. Even the turning silver into gold isn't quite as interesting as I had hoped it'd be. Once Miryam is taken by the Staryk though, I found myself smitten and I absolutely had to keep going. All in all it's a solid story and I think I'm going to find more of Novik's works.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Slade House by David Mitchell - the Second Time

Title: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Pages: 238
Finished: July 5, 2018

First Sentence: Whatever Mum's saying's drowned out by the grimy roar of the bus pulling away, revealing a pub called The Fox and Hounds.

Summary: Every nine years, someone finds a small, black iron door in the wall of Slade Alley. When they open it, they find themselves in the backyard of Slade House, a house too large to fit in the space provided. They find themselves in a place that absolutely fits with what they're looking for. Friendship. Companionship. Answers to questions. Even when things start to seem wrong, they don't leave. Every nine years, someone goes into Slade House and never comes out. Every nine years.

Thoughts: I read this a year ago as a standalone. Today, I read it as the last book of my David Mitchel personal reading challenge. I wanted to read his "ubernovel." The book definitely had some more meaning to it this time around now that I know more. I recognized more names, I was connecting things with other things from other books (real descriptive, I know.) The book itself was a fast read compared to Mitchell's other works.

I think out of the seven, this is my favorite. It's small, fairly light, and just fun. As fun as a haunted house story can be. The book can totally be read on it's own without causing any issues. That being said, it was really neat seeing all the connections including the Moon Grey Cat, some names that connect with other stories, and the tie-in with The Bone Clocks.

In general, I feel like as I read each subsequent Mitchell novel, I need to go back and reread the ones before. I don't feel like the reading experience of any of them was particularly enjoyable, but I keep thinking about them. I'm most curious by the being in Ghostwritten that travels in various people's heads. Is it an Atemporal being like the ones we've met, or is it something else entirely? I'm also intensely curious about the end of Ghostwritten with the comet. When did that supposedly take place? It doesn't seem to take place in any of his other books, but that could just be due to the fact that it's his first book. I'm sure if I Googled long enough, I'd figure it out.

Read for my Persona Reading Challenge.

Out of the Wild Night by Blue Balliet

Title: Out of the Wild Night
Author: Blue Balliett
Pages: 291
Finished: July 5, 2018

First Sentence: My story begins at dusk, on the edges, by the shore and around the graveyards.

Summary: The ghosts on Nantucket are disturbed. Their houses are being renovated and everything that ties them to their island is disappearing. With the help of some local kids, they fight back. But the line between life and death is blurred and all is not as it seems.

Thoughts: We put this book on the middle school reading list this summer, and my boss recommended it as being very odd. It interested me. I'll say, she's right. The book took a while to figure out. The story switches between a first person narrator in Mary Chase - a ghost, and third person as it follows the story of the kids around. Many random things are mentioned and seemingly thrown aside, only to be brought back in later.

I really had a difficult time with the narrator switches. I also never saw the twist coming, though it seems I should have. I blame it on my broken foot that's causing lots of stress. But even with the twist, I felt there were a lot of things still left unexplained at the end.

I did like how, for a ghost story, it wasn't as scary as I was expecting. I'm set to read another one after this that is a bit more horrific, and I'm going to listen to the next in the Lockhart and Co series, so I have plenty of creepiness coming up.

Would I recommend this? I don't know. There's a lot about the line between renovating, restoring, and gutting houses. It's a bit of a battle, though seen through a kid's eyes, it's not so annoying. The narration switches was hard though. And I don't know who I'd recommend it to. Kids wanting a scary story would find this benign and dull. It doesn't fit your traditional fantasy story. It's just kind of... there. I'm not even that thrilled that I read it. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

July Reads

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - Back to the Classics
Out of the Wild Night by Blue Balliet - Unaffiliated
Slade House by David Mitchell - Personal Challenge
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik - Unaffiliated
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell - Back to the Classics

Short List this month because I'm trying to make the pile besides my bed somewhat smaller. Lots of things on this list were meant to be read last month, but it just didn't happen because June ended up being busier than it was supposed to be. 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

WARNING: This post contains spoilers.

Title: The Bone Clocks
Author: David Mitchell
Pages: 624
Finished: July 1, 2018

First Sentence: I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there's the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I'm already thinking of Vinny's chocolaty eyes, shampoo down Vinny's back, beads of sweat on Vinny's shoulders, and Vinny's sly laugh, and by now my heart's going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny's place in Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom.

Summary: This novel follows numerous people in each of its six parts, all revolving around Holly Sykes. We start with 15 year old Holly running away from home after a fight with her mother. While out on the run, she meets a woman named Esther Little who asks her for asylum, and finds herself in a "daymare." In the end, she returns home when her younger brother, Jacko goes missing.

We jump ahead about ten years to Hugo Lamb (the cool, mean cousin from Black Swan Green). He's a nasty piece of work who basically takes advantage of as many people as he can. He meets Holly in Switzerland over the New Year's holiday and falls for her. Hard. But that romance will never be because he's recruited to the Anchorites by an old school friend Elijah D'Arnoq (related to the D'Arnoq in the Adam Ewing chapters of Cloud Atlas.)

Ten years later and we follow Ed Brubeck, the boy who helped Holly back when she was fifteen. They're a couple now with a young kid name Aoiefe. Ed is a war journalist who just wants to get back to Iraq. During this escapade, Aoiefe goes missing, and Holly goes into some sort of trance where she gives Ed the location of their missing child.

Another ten years and we start following the life of author Crispin Hershey. He's a failed author at this point thanks to an awful review. But he keeps going to various lectures and author signings where he keeps meeting Holly Sykes who's written her own book called "The Radio People" about her childhood psychic encounters.

Fast forward to the 2020s and we get to what feels like it should be the culmination of this book. Poor Holly has been the host of an Atemporal being. Her missing brother was another Atemporal being belonging to a group called the Horologists, who try to save people from Anchorites... beings who decant people's souls for a way to cheat death. This is clearly the meat and potatoes of the book as we witness the final battle in this war between these tiny factions of people.

Then comes the very last chapter taking place in the 2040s where climate change has basically ruined the world. Mo from Mitchell's first book (Ghostwritten) shows up here. Holly is now in her 70s and raising her granddaughter and her adopted grandson in this desiccated world. As society continues to collapse, a ship carrying the Horologist Marinus (from Thousand Lives of Jacob de Zoet) arrives with the ability to save her grandchildren. The beginnings of the Prescients in Cloud Atlas show up here.

Thoughts: Blech was that a long summary. I'm sorry guys. I couldn't figure out a way to shorten it.

General thoughts. I was really into Holly Sykes' first story. It felt very similar to Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane. I was also picking up a lot of Black Swan Green. I was intensely curious about Marinus who we last saw as a man living on Dejima in 1799. In fact, I was more than a little annoyed when the story changed. Particularly when it changed to Hugo Lamb. I hated that Holly fell for him primarily because he was such a jackass.

The Ed Brubeck portion was engaging to me. I was very happy to see they got together, but was definitely on Holly's side for almost the entire story even though I really liked Ed. Crispin Hershey's chapters were a huge let down for me. Again, I didn't like Crispin at all. In fact, by this point, I found something else to read because it was just dull.

Luckily, after Crispin Hershey, we get the Horologist/Anchorite war. Now this is my jam. Perhaps a bit more technobabble than I really wanted, but I was totally into it. I particularly enjoyed how they brought back bits of Jacob de Zoet with Marinus, though I'll that retroactively decided a couple other Atemporals were there too was a bit much for me.

The final part was the hardest for me. It takes place in a post climate change ravaged world. And guys, it sucked. It really REALLY sucked. And it feels like it could totally happen. I live in a country that seems to be self-destructing. I just broke my foot and my mental health has seen better days. This part of the book just ripped me apart. It tore me up so badly that my husband had my toddler bringing me Kleenex and giving me hugs. And as much as I appreciated the connection between this and the middle two stories in Cloud Atlas, I just couldn't handle it.

I had been really excited for this book. I'd heard it was his masterpiece. The parts that I liked, I REALLY liked. As the books are starting to call back on each other, I'm getting more and more interested. But that being said, I don't know how fully invested I was. Am I glad I read it? Yeah. And a part of me wants to actually go back and reread some of the stuff I just read, but I think I'll hold off on it.

Read as part of my David Mitchell Personal challenge.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Title: La Belle Sauvage
Author: Philip Pullman
Pages: 449
Finished: June 22, 2018

First Sentence: Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

Summary: Malcolm Polstead works at his parents' inn, the Trout. In his spare time, he paddles up the river to Oxford, or crosses the bridge to spend time at the Priory helping the nuns. So when the nuns take in a little baby named Lyra and offer her sanctuary, he's very happy and willing to do what needs done - including building and installing fortified shutters in case of an invasion. Meanwhile, on one of his visits to Oxford, he sees a failed intelligence drop and watches a man get arrested. A man who later ends up dead. And through it all the Church is becoming more and more conservative as rumors float around about Dust and the little girl Lyra.

Thoughts: Hm... I may need to digest this one for a while. I was completely on board for the first half. I loved Hannah Relf, the scholar working with the alethiometer and for Oakley Street. I found the nuns to be fantastic, particularly Sister Benedicta who seems like she could have stood down an army. Bonneville was an terrifying villain, and the things he did were absolutely sickening. The League of St. Alexander made me so angry. It also reminded me of the kids in 1984. Just all around horrid.

Basically, it felt like the lead up to the world that Lyra lived in. But then the flood happened and the book went off the rails for me. I liked Malcolm and Alice taking care of Lyra. I liked them figuring out what was hapening. In fact, each episode felt a bit like Huck Finn to me. But the sudden inclusion of the old creatures of Faery didn't work for me as well as I feel like they should have. I didn't understand how the Gyptians would know that and no one else. And then the end is so rushed... Even down to how Lyra ends up with the Alethiometer didn't play a right to me as it should.

All in all and interesting addition to the world, though not my favorite. That being said, I am seriously looking forward to the next book!

Monday, June 18, 2018

The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

Title: The House at Pooh Corner
Author: A. A. Milne
Pages: 180
Finished: June 18, 2018

First Sentence: One day when Pooh Bear had nothing else to do, he thought he would do something, so he went round to Piglet's house to see what Piglet was doing.

Summary: Starting somewhere around where the last one left off, we have more adventures with Pooh Bear and all his friends. Tigger makes his appearance. Pooh Sticks is invented. Rabbit tries to humble Tigger. A blustery day blows down Owl's house. And Christopher Robin grows up.

Thoughts: My last review was full of not a lot of sense, and I'll admit, this one is almost worse. I started crying while working the help desk at work as I finished this one up. (I work in a library.) Milne has captured childhood and imagination so wonderfully. I loved all of it. We used to play Pooh Sticks as a family. I even remember gathering sticks and taking the train to the City to play Pooh Sticks in the City River

The last chapter though... Somehow Milne managed to hit that melancholy and hope all at once. Definitely worth reading aloud to my kid. Definitely worth a spot on our personal shelves. I'm so glad my mom suggested this for our family book discussion.