Frances Hodgson: The Secret Garden

•November 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

61tm4fkvqdl-_sl300_The Secret Garden
2016 Book Challenge: a book a friend recommended
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
narrated by Johanna Ward
(children’s fiction, classic fiction)

I somehow managed to avoid reading this one as a child. (I suspect it had something to do with this being “a children’s book”. I was rather proud of the fact that I could read well above my grade level, and so was sometimes kinda snobbish about which books I chose to read for pleasure. However, it could also easily be because this was not a fantasy or even adventure book. Even now, I still prefer to read fantasies, but I will read more mundane books as well. At the time, I almost never elected to read a non-fantasy book. Most of the ones I read were class assignments, and this book was never assigned to me for school.)

Anyway, in my adult life I have had many people recommend this book to me. They find out I never read it as a kid, and it becomes a new “must read”. So eventually, I picked up the Audible version and listened to that.I’m glad I went with the Audible version. The broad Yorkshire used in the story is much more enjoyable to listen to than I suspect it would have been to read. And the narrator, Johanna Ward, does a great job with this book.

What did I think about the book itself? It has certainly earned its place as a classic novel. (Though there are some race-related comments that must be taken in context of the era.) I enjoyed listening to it. This is not one that I need to revisit often, though, I think. I’m glad to have read it, but it won’t be on my keeper shelf. This might be different if I had first read it as a child. I might have associated more with the main characters if I was closer to their age, and therefore it might mean more to me. Coming to it for the first time as an adult, however, it’s an enjoyable book but not one that really speaks to me personally.

So should you read it? If you, like me, haven’t read it before, then yes, I do think you should. Not just girls or women, either; I think boys and men would be equally benefited by the read. I do think this is one best approached for the first time as a youth, though. So I’m more likely to suggest that you read it with your daughter or son, if applicable – there’s a lot in there which can be discussed as a family during the reading of it.

Wen Spencer: Eight Million Gods

•November 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

18730787.jpgEight Million Gods
by Wen Spencer
(urban fantasy, mythological elements)

This is a book that I have wanted to read since the first time I read the Elfhome book with the first chapter of Eight Million Gods at the back as a teaser. (I think it was Wolf Who Rules, but it might have been Elfhome. I read those two so closely together that I forget.) It sounded like a really interesting premise, and so it went on my TBR list. Well, I finally got my hands on a copy of it and dug in! And the book didn’t disappoint. Very fun romp through Japan – both modern and mythological. (Never having been to Japan or been much involved in Japanese culture, I can’t speak to its authenticity, but it felt right based on the little I do know.)

A very quick, spoiler-free summary: our heroine has hypergraphia, a condition which is characterized by a compulsion to write. In Nikki Delaney’s case, she has become able to turn this compulsion into a productive thing, channeling her need to write into her novels. However, when one of her characters dies in a fashion very similar to a real murder, Nikki must find out quickly whether this is the work of a crazy fan or something more sinister. And when a raccoon in a business suit shows up at her door, she starts to think there’s something very wrong with her sanity.

(See why I wanted to read it? Crazy-fun stuff!)

The book was as fun as I had hoped. One of the things I really enjoyed was getting to see the entire story from Nikki’s POV, even in the instances where it seemed we were reading someone else’s POV. (Read it. You’ll see.) That was a very clever way of doing it. The universe seemed consistent with itself – and, as I said earlier, with the little I know of Japanese culture – and all the characters felt fully fleshed out. This is one I’ll enjoy re-reading in a few years to see if I catch anything new in the beginning chapters now that I know the ending.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island

•October 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment

51egbh3jkrl-_sl200_Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson
narrated by Neil Hunt
(YA, classic adventure)

This book is a classic. That’s undisputed, I think. And it’s one that everyone should read – preferably twice, I think, once as a kid and once as an adult. You get completely different things out of it at different ages. When I read it as a kid, I got the intensity of the adventure, the fright at Jim’s danger, and the excitement of a pirate story. As an adult, I could appreciate the crafting of the story, all (or at least more) of the cultural references that were used in this book and that have come from this book, and I got a lot more out of the descriptions of how the sailing ship worked. It was less intense with this re-read, though that could possibly be due to the fact that I was listening to an audiobook this time around. (I can never tell if listening to the audio version will make a book feel more or less intense than reading it for myself.)

The basic plot of this story should be known to just about everyone, even if you’re not aware that you know it. (Seriously, this story has buried itself deep, and references to it – blatant and otherwise – are everywhere.) Jim Hawkins is a young boy who helps his family run an inn, and one day an old sailor (well, an old pirate as we find out later) comes and rents a room. He stays a while until some of his old friends come by and give him a piece of paper with the “black spot” on it, and then he dies, leaving Jim and his mother in fear of the pirate’s friends. Jim finds a treasure map among the dead pirate’s things, and takes it to the local squire, who decides to mount a treasure hunting expedition. Well, the squire has the misfortune of picking mostly pirates for his crew on this treasure hunt, and when the ship arrives at Treasure Island the two sides fight. The pirates end up with the ship, and the squire, captain, Jim, and a few other loyal men end up with the map. There’s more fun and adventure after that, and it’s well worth reading. (I mean it – if you haven’t read this one before, you should read it now.)

This isn’t a deep, meaningful book, not really. It’s an adventure story, and its main character is a kid. But it is an important book. And I’m glad to have read it again.

Seanan McGuire: Every Heart A Doorway

•September 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

heart-big.jpgEvery Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children)
by Seanan McGuire
(fantasy, paranormal, YA?)

This is an interesting book for several reasons, but (for me) largely because of the premise. Essentially, this book attempts to answer the question, “what happens to Alice when she returns home from Wonderland?” In this story, there is more than one Wonderland, and each Wonderland is different. (They’re not called Wonderland in the story, that’s all me.) Some are Nonsense worlds, and some are Logic worlds. Some are classified as Virtue and others as Wicked. Others have Rhyme or Reason. (And there is a blend of each in the worlds, too. Your Nonsense world can also be Wicked, for instance.)

I really enjoyed reading this book. If it was lacking anything (which I’m not sure it was), it would have been more time spent in the various worlds. Instead, we spend all of the present time on Earth in some unspecified modern time. We do get to see a little of the other worlds in memories or stories the kids tell, but we don’t really get to see into the other worlds. Ms. McGuire has done such a fascinating job describing them through the eyes of their children that it would be fun to see some scenes actually set in these other worlds. (Well, perhaps in a sequel, since I see that Goodreads believes this to be a series.)

Contrary to my expectations prior to starting to read, however, I did not find this book to be scary. Based on the blurb, I thought it would freak me out. It didn’t. Maybe I was too fascinated by the world? Or maybe given the possibilities of a Wicked world I was expecting more than what was written? There are a couple of kinda gruesome scenes. There are murders which happen in this book, after all. But they didn’t strike me as out of place in the world being created in the book, and were only mildly creepy instead of downright scary. (For the record, this did not alter my enjoyment of the book. It fit exactly what the tone of the rest of the story had set up.)

One thing that must be said about this book is that it is short. I don’t know if it is officially a novella, but it feels like either a novella or a short novel. It’s a very intense story, whatever its official length. It is packed with detail and character development and action. (Not action-movie-action, but action all the same.) I look forward to seeing where this world goes, if it is indeed the beginning of a new series.

Felicia Day: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

•September 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

51XfbTo2iOL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgYou’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
written and narrated by Felicia Day
(memoir, non-fiction)

I didn’t expect that this book would make me cry. But… it did. Towards the end, Felicia gets very personal (okay, so all of the book is personal; I guess I mean she gets more personal with her feelings) and you can tell that some of her stories mean a lot to her. Others are silly stories, and while those are important to have and to share as well, they’re not what made me cry. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the two which got to me. Or maybe it was hearing her tell her own story that made me cry. In either case, it was a good cry, the kind that happens when you hear a super-inspirational story or click through one of those Facebook links about the fireman and the rescued kitten.

The book itself is what you’d expect from a memoir. It tells the story of Felicia Day’s life up to this point. I didn’t know anything about her early life, or even her early career before listening to this audiobook. I haven’t watched Buffy or Supernatural or her episodes of Eureka. I know about Felicia Day exclusively from The Guild and Dr. Horrible. However, there were times when I felt like I knew her from my own past.

I think some things in her book are only truly relatable if you grew up at the same approximate time. She talks about her Pegasus page in her sticker book, and about logging on to CompuServe, and having to learn to transition from a card catalog to Internet searches. I don’t know if kids today still have sticker books (though I’m going to remedy that with my niece and nephew) but the other things I just mentioned would get me blank stares instead of any kind of comprehension. And yet I knew exactly what she was talking about, and it brought back memories of my own.

There are other things, however, which anyone can relate to. Stories about fitting in. About doing things that YOU want to do, and not things that you think you are supposed to want to do. About learning what makes you who you are. And those parts I think everyone can enjoy, whether they connect with the gamer or geeky aspects of the book.

An additional note: if you like audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to this one instead of reading it. It was great hearing Felicia do the narrating herself. And I didn’t miss out on the illustrations in the book, either – Audible, at least, had a PDF to download after you bought the book which has the illustrations included. Very nice to have that.

Holly Black: Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

•September 9, 2016 • 1 Comment

tithe-original-coverTithe: A Modern Faerie Tale
by Holly Black
(fantasy, YA)

I picked this book up because it sounded neat. A modern faerie tale? Yes please! Plus, I had read Holly’s Spiderwick Chronicles and enjoyed them, so I figured this one was a good choice. And I was right! I enjoyed reading it, and found myself caught up in the character development and plotlines. There were a few twists, too. Some of them I saw coming, others I did not.

To be honest, when I first started reading the book I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of it. It starts (after the opening scenes, anyway) with our school-aged heroine out past the time when her grandmother thinks she should be in bed, climbing into abandoned buildings, smoking, and getting accosted by the boyfriend of her best friend. (Nothing too bad, but he makes unwanted advances.) While I will grant you that I was a prude in high school (and like it or not some of that sticks around later in life) I wasn’t sure that this kind of heroine was someone I wanted to read a whole book about. However, I’m glad I kept going. While Kaye does continue to behave consistently with the way she started the book, her actions are tempered a bit by what happens in the land of faerie and what she finds out.

Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that Kaye does some dumb things. A few of them are REALLY dumb things. Not unexpected for a teenager, but there were some things I rolled my eyes at. (Again, not unexpected for a teenager.) It was completely believable behavior, mind. I can’t say I wouldn’t have behaved similarly at her age. I also have to say that her faerie friends acted how I would expect faeries to act. (Her faerie enemies did, as well.) It was interesting to see how her human friends and family acted and reacted to the faeries, and the character interactions are what makes me curious about the rest of the series.

Is this one worth reading? Yes. It won’t be for everyone, because some people won’t be able to get past Kaye’s or her mother’s initial actions, or be able to accept faeries as something other than cute, happy, friendly beings. However, if it sounds like an interesting book and you’re okay with the more traditional take on faeries you should certainly give it a try.

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

•September 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

lg_imageSense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
narrated by Wanda McCaddon
(classic romance, historical fiction)

So, this was my first Jane Austen novel. I had seen the movie adaptation of the book (the 1995 film with Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet) but had never read the source material.Emma Thompson (also the screenwriter) did an amazing job of capturing the book in her screenplay; I felt that the few changes I noticed (though there are undoubtedly many more that I did not notice, since it has been a while since I watched the movie) were all wise choices to make the story more approachable and the characters more believable for modern audiences.

For this audiobook, the narrator was perfect. She sounded like she had come straight out of the movie, and so I found no trouble at all picturing the right kind of clothing and situations as she described.

And as to the story itself, I can see why this is a classic. It has an easy to follow plot and likable main characters (for in the book even more than the movie, there is no doubt that Elinor and Marianne are the main characters while their friends and other family members are the secondary characters). There are quite reasonable obstacles to our heroines’ happiness (given the era, especially), plot twists, believable secondary characters, and a happy ending. It has all the things I would want in good fiction. And this book has confirmed to me that while I usually prefer fantasy, historical fiction is also quite enjoyable.

I guess the biggest test of a new author is this: would I read another of Austen’s work? The answer is yes, but with a caveat. I think I would prefer to listen to another audiobook of Austen’s instead of read a paper copy for myself. It just feels appropriate to hear it with the proper accent (or at least a better accent than I can manage). I think I have a copy of Emma (a hand-me-down from my grandparents’ library) so I might start reading it myself first, but I will be a lot more likely to buy new ones from Audible than a traditional bookstore. Still; I can certainly see why this book is still so popular all these years later.