Monday, June 30, 2014

A Month in Review for June, Upcoming Critiques, and I'm Feeling 22

Butteiful Scenery near Butte, MT
June has been relatively uneventful in my reading life, due to vacationing, frequent gardening, and rereading books for critiques. I've also decided to tackle some DIY projects, the bulk of which will involve tearing down three layers of vintage wallpaper in my bedroom that had been painted over by the previous owners of our 1903 house. Here's a tip: if you have wallpaper (very old, degraded wallpaper that is peeling off the walls) please take the time to remove it before painting. My bedroom is probably the worst room in our house, due to the painted wallpaper bubbling, and although rooms downstairs also have painted over wallpaper, it doesn't look near as hideous because they have genuine 1903 light fixtures (those make everything look good). In news that pertains directly to the blog, I've set up an email address specifically for review requests (or anything else blog-related) that you can find at the very end of the Connect With Me page.

In case you were wondering what three layers of Made in the USA wallpaper looks like.

 Total Posts: 19
 Total Critiques: 11 (only 1 missed due to vacation)
   Classics: 1
   Fantasy: 2
   Historical: 5
   Magical Realism: 1
   Paranormal Romance: 2
   Romance: 9
   Sci-fi: 1
   Urban Fantasy: 1

Most Popular Posts of the Month:
"The Lycan Hunter (A Gardinian World Novel)" by Kelsey Jordan
Blog News: Liebster Award
Confessions: All's Well That Ends Well (With Gifs) (I think people like gifs...)
Sunday Fun 5: Realms of the Written Word You Wish You Never Left

Pageviews For the Month: 650+
Comments: 12!
Liebster Award Nominations: 2!

Blog Schedule and Features: Critiques on Tuesdays, Thursdays, sometimes Fridays, and Saturdays. On Sundays, I rotate between the Sunday Fun Five, and Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer.

Currently Reading: Still reading Thief's Magic (Millennium's Rule #1) by Trudi Canavan, Candide by Voltaire {not loving it}, and planning on trying to read The Riddle-Master of Hed (Riddle-Master #1) by Patricia A. McKillip with the Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads, as I've had terrible luck trying to read it on my own, and that's what online book clubs are for: accountability.

Upcoming Critiques:

Here's a look at what I've been polishing for the month of July:

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire #2) by George R.R. Martin. Since I've critiqued the first, I may as well critique the rest. One of the better fantasy series I've read, and one I may wait until the end of time for, A Song of Ice and Fire is worth the hype, and 1000% more awesome to read than to watch on tv. Genres: Epic Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror, Heroes I Love, Heroines I Love, Series

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin. A book he wrote before A Game of Thrones, and well worth your consideration, this is historical fiction... vampire style. Genres: Historical, Action/Adventure, Vampires, Horror

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2) by Jim Butcher. This series continues to draw me in, despite Harry Dresden's brain malfunctioning antics. What can I say besides, "If you're a wizard, and your name is Harry, you have my attention"? Genres: Urban Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Funny

The Duke's Holiday (The Regency Romp Trilogy #1) by Maggie Fenton. It's rare that I critique anything that is mostly romance, but this one was delightful enough to change my mind. If you need to laugh, read this book... after you see my critique, of course. Genres: Romance, Historical, Funny

On July 6th, I will be 22 years old. To pre-celebrate, allow me to post this Taylor Swift video:

(You're welcome, 'merica {as well as every other nation whose people visit my blog [thank you, people]}. Now you'll have this song in your head until my birthday.)

The HORROR! From Reaction Gifs

See you in July,

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Confessions: On Judging a Reader By Their Books (With Gifs)

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #7

Have you ever been judged solely on the contents of your bookshelves? Have you inferred character traits onto someone else based on their "favorite" books, or the books they talk about? ...have you thought twice about calling someone your friend, after seeing their shelves were only books that are popular or "in"? If none of those apply to you, you're probably not a reader- or you're a reader, but you enjoy telling yourself you're a cut above. I think we all have books we'd rather say we have not read, or those certain books we see people reading and we silently scoff at them.

You've probably heard a lot of this:
E.L. James? The stuff of fanfiction!
Twilight? Dumb sparkly vampires' patriarchy!
War and Peace? Talk about War and Snoozed Through It.

Worse things have been said about those books, but I chose to take the high road (as I'm a cut above the rest), and gave milder examples. But I must ask... Why do we do it? Why do we judge our fellow (few and far between) readers? Why do we assume because x person read y book and rated it z stars, they will automatically be in q box?

So you've read Twilight... From Reaction Gifs.
On occasion, I have been known to judge people for their books, but often not the way you'd think. If I see someone on GoodReads who reads only ONE genre- one genre, out of the many you can pick from- I will absolutely judge them. I think it's important to read widely, expand your literary horizons, and use books for learning as well as enjoyment. If someone reads from two genres (and not every book from the New York Times bestseller list), I don't feel the need to silently judge that someone any longer.

Well, now to 'fess up my reading habits (again): I've read the entire Twilight series, when I was 13-16 years old, and thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it. I hated the movie, thus ending my infatuation (Rob Pattinson looks more like a girl than me...), but it is still rated 3 stars on my GoodReads profile, to this day. I know people loathe that book quite demonstrably, and would probably judge me for reading it, but the fact remains: it has a place on my bookshelf. I'm not going to hide the fact that I've read it because people may give me the Ryan Gosling look. I'm a reader, and therefore, I read- whatever book makes me happy, whenever I want, wherever I may be.

So why do we judge people for reading books? Shouldn't we, as readers, protect our own from such prejudicial nonsense? We live in an age where it is so easy to not read: if it's a popular book, it'll be a movie/tv show in no time; if it's a classic, we can read the highlight reel on Sparknotes; if it's a debut novel by an unknown author, why take the time to read it when there is so little chance it will ever be popular? There are so many reasons not to read, compounded with "but people might judge me for it", and suddenly we have many people who, once out of school, never pick up a book again.

That makes me angry. Angry enough to pet my precious Persian while instigating the demise of another girl from the Bond movies...

From Giphy, and You Only Live Twice

I try not to judge people on their books anymore- even if they stick resolutely to one genre, or even if they love a book I can't stand. What does it accomplish besides making people not want to read books and making me a caviler? Instead, I feel it is my duty to encourage people to read. Read what you want to, and never take crap for reading whatever you please. You'll be glad you did.

To All Who Have Been Judged By Their Books, You Are:

From Giphy

Have you been judged because of books you've read? Do you judge people on what books they do and do not read? Are people too quick to defame certain books?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Gone With The Wind" by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind: The Inheritance Edition, On Left
I decided I would read Gone With The Wind at the relatively young age of 13, mostly because I'd heard about it as being one of the most quoted movies of all time, and I preferred reading to watching films. I asked my mother to pick it up at the library for me, but she told me we had it. This was news to me- we had two major bookshelves in our house, and I'd never seen its title on either. As it turned out, the book we had was incognito- wallpapered over to make it last longer.

Gone With The Wind had been my deceased grandmother's all time favorite book. When she died, I was nine years old, and had no clue that the framed picture on my grandma's vanity had been Clark Gable, or that my grandma had ever had a favorite book. Her edition of Gone With The Wind is missing pages, scotch-taped together in most places, and overall in fairly dismal condition- but I managed to read it all the same.

The Plot:
16 year old Scarlett O'Hara has a problem. The boy of her dreams, Ashley Wilkes, is engaged to someone else. It doesn't matter if other boys like her, she wants Ashley, and will do anything to have him. But with war on the horizon, will she be able to win him back in time? Or will her whims change when she spies the handsome Rhett Butler?

Chances are, you've met a Scarlett O'Hara in real life. Those women or men who chase after something they want, but when they get that something, they want something else entirely. They think happiness will arrive once they have that perfect person, who ends up being not at all like they imagined. In some ways, this book reminded me both of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, women who want happiness (or something along those lines [a happily ever after?]) and then end up ruining their chances at it by pursuing their whims. Not to say Scarlett doesn't eventually find her way, but she has moments when I want to slap her soundly for messing up.

Race is definitely a hot-button issue for this book. African Americans are not treated fairly (at all), and called despicable names. However, when I hear of people who "can't" read this book due to its content, I must ask them this: wasn't that the way black people were treated in pre-Civil War Georgia? If they were treated equally in this book, it wouldn't be historical fiction, it would probably be a fantasy, and a lot of what actually happened to black people in the South during that era is sugarcoated. On my 1950s hardcover jacket, I notice a distinct lack of black characters (one that is smaller than my pinkie looks like a portrait of Mammy), when really the novel is relatively racially diverse for its time (though not a "diverse book" by any stretch of the imagination). Although I respect that some people cannot abide the terrible things people of color are called and portrayed as in this book, I think as a modern reader, it illustrates how far we've come since 1937, and compared with some books I've read, is relatively moderate in racism (most books I've read worse than GWTW are no longer in print today, thank heavens).

Another aspect of this book (which is very mildly "spoiler-ish"- if you've seen the movie, feel free to read this paragraph) that is probably why my grandma loved it so is that Scarlett O'Hara was a widow. My grandmother lived in a time when men died quite frequently- she was widowed three times in total, ending up having to raise her preteen and teen children by herself. I really can't imagine losing three husbands as she did, and would imagine she felt she had a sister in Scarlett, who is also fighting her way through life quite often on her own with a great deal of spunk.

Gone With The Wind is a controversial book that glorifies the Old South, thus making it taboo for many people. I don't feel this book should be banned or scorned- it should be taken with a heavy dose of salt, and read simply for the story and characters, not the cringe-inducing race stereotyping. If you are willing to accept that this book was written at a time in our history where people of color were not enslaved, but not really free and this book is written about a place and time where slavery was a-ok, you shouldn't be terribly offended by this book. With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama of the book, and felt suddenly like I understood my grandmother who had died four years prior to me reading it. An epic historical romance, Gone With The Wind is a great selection for any reader willing to look past its flaws to see its story.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars, for a flawed but expansive family heirloom.

Content: Violence, limited sexual content, bigotry, and racism. I read it at 13, but advise ages 16+.

Page Count: 1037 pages in my heirloom edition

Famous Last Words (non-spoiler):

"After all, tomorrow is another day."

            ~From the mouth of Scarlett O'Hara, by Margaret Mitchell

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"A Game of Thrones (ASoIaF #1)" by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones is the first book in an unfinished series (expected to be 7-8 books long, only 5 are published) called A Song of Ice and Fire, often shortened to ASoIaF, which I used for the header of my post.

If you do not want to read about any of the following: incest, murder, rape, discrimination, child abuse, gray morality, sex (of a wide variety), characters you love dying, injustice, swearing, arranged marriages (with men twice the age of their brides), and other such historical topics, feel free to click on another review (visit my Archive, I've worked hard on it). This book isn't for you, so don't bother reading my critique of it (this book contains material that may set off triggers for those of us with things we'd rather forget).

The story of how I came across A Game of Thrones is a bit murky. I may have picked it up before I watched the first episode on tv, or I may have picked it up out of curiosity at my neighborhood Walmart and subsequently watched the tv show. Either way, I ended up with it, and was very confused while first reading it.

The initial confusion resulted from a number of things- despite it clearly stating "fantasy" on the back cover, it also mentions "historical", leading me to read half the book trying to place it on our map, regardless of the book's provided one. For most of the book, it seems so like some of our medieval history that I filed it in my brain under "historical", but was glad when I finally puzzled out it was actually fantasy.

The (Bare Bones) Plot:
Eddard (Ned) Stark is fulfilling his duty as protector of the North admirably, along with raising his children (and bastard son), up until one day when he receives word that Jon Arryn, his father-figure and the King's Hand is dead. The King of the Seven Kingdoms (Robert) arrives in his region shortly after, proposing that he become the King's Hand, and betroth his daughter Sansa to the heir apparent Joffrey. But when a suspicious letter warns that the last King's Hand was murdered, can Ned afford to accept?

There are so many plots wandering in this book that it makes the head spin. The book is called A Game of Thrones because there are so many characters vying to fill the seat of King (or Queen) of Westeros, or trying to become more powerful, or simply trying to survive. You can pick from a wide variety of characters to cheer on, mostly because Mr. Martin is notorious for killing off main protagonists and main antagonists.

Characters To Watch (There Are Many): [Underlined Indicates My Faves]

The Stark Family (including Jon Snow, who knows nothing, and their ward):
  Eddard (Ned): the father, who does become the King's Hand, and is too just for his own good.
  Catelyn: the mother (to all but Jon Snow, who she loathes), one of the stronger females out there, who will do anything for her children.
    Jon Snow(/Stark) [14yrs]: the bastard, who is also too just for his own good and knows nothing, but more than Robb.
    Robb [14yrs]: the heir to Winterfell (the North), who is a bit dull (in my opinion).
    Sansa [11yrs]: gets a lot of crap from readers (and viewers) because she's naive and not a tomboy.
    Arya [9yrs]: the badass of the family. Also a girl, in case you were wondering.
    Bran (Brandon) [7yrs]: the curious one... who pays for it.
    Rickon [3yrs]: he is three, so he's not that impressive yet.
  Theon Greyjoy: the ward of Eddard Stark, with a rather gray view of morality, hangs with Robb.
All of the Stark children have direwolves, including Jon Snow. I also have a direwolf (the toy version):
Aww... Isn't she sweet? No pale skin was marred in the production of this photo.
The Last of the Targaryens, Previously Rulers of the Seven Kingdoms:
  Princess (only in title) Daenerys (Dany) Stormborn [13yrs]: is forced to wed a man twice her age, Khal Drogo, by her brother, who she expected to be wed to in the Targaryen tradition.
  The Beggar Prince Viserys: her brother, who is quite vile, and elder than her.

The Current Royal Family of the Seven Kingdoms (The Baratheons):
  King Robert: the King, a bear of a man who is now overweight.
  Queen Cersei (formerly a Lannister): twin to Jaime Lannister, will do anything to protect her children.
    The Heir Apparent, Prince Joffrey [12yrs]: a snobby little brat with a mean streak.
    Princess Myrcella [8yrs]: sweet, but rather unimportant in this book.
    Prince Tommen [7yrs]: isn't seen much in this book, but not as awful as his big bro.
  Stannis (Robert's brother): Lord of Dragonstone.

The Lannisters (as featured on Sunday Fun 5: Villains)
  Tywin: the father of Jaime, Cersei, and (grudgingly) Tyrion, and evil mastermind.
    Jaime: Known as the Kingkiller for killing the Targaryen king, the heir to Casterly Rock, also evil.
    Tyrion: the misfit, a dwarf (or little person), blamed by his father for killing his mother, not evil.

If you are a fan of realistic fantasy, history, and gray morality, this series is ideal for you. A lot of the plot points can be found in our real world history, leading to me mistaking it for a weird historical fiction. While there is magic and mythical creatures in this book, it isn't very prevalent. There isn't a lot of fantasy-speak or historical-speak either- many of the conversations feel like they could have taken place in our world.

A Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy that continues to shock legions of fans who have either read or watched the tv series. If you have only watched the tv series, do yourself a favor: read the books. I gave up on watching the tv series after my reading outpaced it (it only took me a month and a week to read all five books), and I must say I liked my reading experience much more than watching the show, despite all the actors being utterly perfect for their collective parts. If you are looking for a book that shuns the traditional elements of epic fantasy, this book is for you.

Rating: It's a masterpiece, but some of it (married at 13, anyone?) perturbed my delicate sensibilities. 4.5 stars.

Content: Ages 18+, I read it at 18, but recommend you read my list of vices at the top before reading.

Page Count: 807 pages in my edition, with page count rising in subsequent books

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"The Lazy Vacationer" by Litha Nelle

In case you were wondering what I did for the past week away from my blog, it looked a lot like this:
Paddle-boating selfie
And this:
Really, who needs an ocean when you have a lake and mountains?
I've been slacking off, rereading Game of Thrones and applying seven layers of sunscreen a day. So, no critique for today, but I thought you might enjoy seeing what a vacation at Flathead Lake does to people. I was practically an outdoorsy girl for a week (despite it raining vehemently the first few days I was there, resulting in a Disney movie marathon). Also, I have some pics from my last trip at Polson vs. this trip.

Last year's trip
This year's trip- notice most of the dam gates are open
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and recommend to everyone to visit my birth state of Montana at least once in their lives- from Flathead Lake to Glacier Park to Red Lodge to West Yellowstone, Montana has hidden gems and picturesque views. If it was never winter (or snow in the summer) in Montana, it would be paradise.

See you on Thursday!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Fun 5: Authors You Would Revive, If Only For a Day

Sunday Fun 5 #4:

Sunday Fun 5:
#4: The 5 Authors You Would Revive, If Only For a Day
For the 6th of July: #5: The 5 Books that Define You as a Person and a Reader
Feel free to participate by commenting below or writing a blog post: I wrote up some guidelines for blog participation here.

A Countdown of

The 5 Authors You Would Revive, If Only For a Day

Photo From Wikipedia
5. Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Millenium Series, along with articles.
Stieg Larsson is one hell of a writer, and he hadn't even published The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before he passed away. When I read his books, I was certain he would be the next big thing, until I learned of his untimely death. My main questions after reviving him would be, "Did you know the books you wrote would be this popular?", "Is Lisbeth Salander a real person, or did you hallucinate her?", and also, "Did you consider having her say, 'My name is Lisbeth Salander. You ruined my childhood. Prepare to die.'?"

Photo From Wikipedia
4. Anne McCaffrey, author of Dragonriders of Pern series, The Rowan, and many other great books.
Anne McCaffrey passed away more recently, and she wrote up until the day she died. She's written so many great books that feature strong heroines, and has imagined worlds that can consume you. Really, all I want to do when reviving her for a day is say, "Go spend time with your loved ones. You've done enough for me."

Photo From Wikipedia, Tolkien in the army
3. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit, and other great books.
My favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien is a man who could write like I want to write- eloquently and emotionally. He wrote prose, an art which has been scorned by many modern-day writers, but I'm a pro-prose reader, a Victorian soul. If I were to revive him for a day, I'd have him teach me how to write, and if we had time, how to world-build.

Photo From
2. James Herriot, author of All Creatures Great and Small, along with his other great memoirs.
If you are an animal lover and you haven't read a James Herriot book yet, run for the bookstore immediately- don't even bother reading the rest of this post. James Herriot can translate the intangible funniness of 3000 youtube cat videos into a book. He can also make you cry for animals you've never met, laugh at their antics, and generally turn a phrase like he's been writing since the day he was born. If I revived this author, all I'd want to do is give him a giant hug and thank him for writing all the things that other animal lovers can't accurately express.

Photo From Wikipedia
1. Oscar Wilde, author of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many other great works.
Have I told you lately how I adore this author's writing and witticisms? How before-his-time he was? How his quotes are some of the most liked around, despite being roughly a hundred years old? If I were to revive this author, I'd bring him to San Francisco and let him paint the town red. There is no need for him to write anything else for me, as he left a wealth of writings when departing this world.

Do you have any authors you would want to revive, if only for a day? If you could bring them back to life, what would you have them do?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)" by Charlaine Harris

If you are looking for great literature, don't bother reading this critique. Dead Until Dark is many things: witty, funny, romantic, and action-filled, but it is definitely not what I would call great literature. When I grudgingly bought this, I honestly thought I would hate this book immensely, due to the highly "liked" one star reviews on Goodreads that claimed it was utterly without merit. Well, it kind of is. And I enjoyed every meritless sentence, down to the last comma.

In the life of a reader, sometimes you need a book that has nothing to offer but fun. I can't tell you how many times I've read books that are labeled great literature and have mentally said to myself, "This book is utterly pretentious. It's trying so hard to be a classic, a book that people will gush about for ages until it becomes required reading for high schoolers everywhere. I declare bullcrap," and fling the book out the nearest window. With this novel, there is no risk of that occurring. This novel screams, "I am trashy, and damned proud of it!", all in a meticulously crafted Southern accent.

The Plot:
Sookie Stackhouse is a psychic, trying her best to hide her abilities in her small town where she works as a waitress. One day, a vampire walks into her workplace (which also happens to be a bar), and she hears the malicious thoughts of a pair of humans are in a nearby booth. She takes a chance, and confronts the people when they trail him to the parking lot, saving his life. Bill the vampire is now in her debt, but larger problems appear when one of her coworkers is killed, apparently by a vampire. Could the vampire whose life she spared have blood on his hands?

This book is set in a world where vampires are not in hiding, due to an invention called True Blood which supposedly negates the vampires' collective need for human blood. Of course, the real blood is more palatable, and some vampires are whispered to drink only the natural thing. What makes vampires so intriguing to Sookie is she can't hear their thoughts, which is definitely a plus for her, as she considers her gift a disability. A disability that makes her eminently able to puzzle out a murder mystery, if only the killer were human...

Dead Until Dark is a book to be read simply for pleasure, as there isn't much to it beyond an enjoyable story and characters. What makes it so excellent, in my humble opinion, is how it never tries to be more than it is- there are no earth-shattering insights that miss the mark, no misplaced rant about something the author believes, and no real reason to use your brain (other than to puzzle out the mystery) while reading. The story feels authentic to itself- the author is writing what she knows how to write about, and I applaud her for it. If you are looking for a very quirky, mysterious, romantic, and funny beach read this summer, this is the one for you.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars, for a highly enjoyable story with nothing added on!

Content: Ages 18+ due to all the goodies: sex, blood, violence, and maybe some swearing(?).

Page Count: 292 pages of sheer fun

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"The Foretelling" by Alice Hoffman

This is a book I read as a teen, my first Alice Hoffman. You'd think that this is the novel that made me her fan, but I was honestly unimpressed after reading this and rated it accordingly.

The style of this book is a bit hard for me to swallow. At times, it's lyrical and lovely. At other times, it is so choppy and abrupt it hurts my eyes. I also really didn't like that this book was double spaced: if it wasn't done that way, it would probably be labeled a novella. I don't like books where there is a lot of formatting and random art pieces that sometimes take up a lot of the page, because I buy books for reading words and not looking at pretty things, and this was one of those books. But when I look past all of that, this book is worthy of being read, despite all my nitpicking.

The Plot:
Rain is the heir apparent in her tribe of Amazon warriors, although her mother and Queen, Alina, doesn't treat her like it. She was born as a result of intruders of their land raping Alina and leaving her for dead. Rain had hoped that as she matured, her mother would warm to her, but in her thirteenth year, a time when all Amazonia girls get their horse, it becomes clear that Alina will never be part of her world. Rain gets her mare from another source, the warrior Astella, who taught her to ride. It is said Rain has the gift for prophecy, and therefore her dreams are omens of the future. But increasingly, her dreams feature one thing, a black horse. The omen of death.

Rain is an interesting character because even though she's been brought up to be a warrior and kill anything foreign, when she finally meets a foreigner and he aids her she chooses not to kill him. She also doesn't spend a lot of time with her tribespeople, and only finds a friend in a former slave girl her people rescued. Generally when I think of queens-to-be, you'd think they would spend more time with their people instead of with their animals, but I could see how the Amazon tribe would differ.

It has been a subject of debate in recent years as to whether the Amazons of the ancient world were mythological or actually historical. I wasn't quite sure what to label this with, so I did a little digging online, and came up with this helpful article from the Smithsonian. Archaeologists have found remains of female warriors buried in kurgans- just as this book depicts.

The Foretelling is a tale about a queen-to-be coming of age and inheriting responsibilities. While it certainly isn't one of my favorites, it succeeds in bringing to life the myth and the history of the tribe of Amazon female warriors. If you are looking for a quick book about the Amazons, consider making The Foretelling your next read.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for an interesting story with historical details that fell a bit short of my expectations.

Content: Violence, rape and sexual references, and Amazon culture. Ages 14+.

Page Count: 167 pages in my paperback edition, double spaced, with extra space taken for art elements.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Beneath a Marble Sky" by John Shors

I read this one as a teen, because I wanted to learn more about the Taj Mahal and the people behind it. Although this is historical fiction, it gives you a feel for Indian culture, which, being a relatively sheltered teenager in Montana, I didn't get to hear much of outside a social studies class. This was one of the first adult books I picked up at the thrift shop, due to its glamorous cover.

Despite its onion domes, I had always thought the Taj Mahal had been an artifact of the Hindu faith (yes, I was once culturally and architecturally ignorant). And naturally, with the sari-esque clothing featured on the cover and the country in question (Hindustan), I had assumed the faith depicted in this book would be Hinduism. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of both Muslim and Hindu faiths represented. That said, much of this book focuses more on the culture and opulence of Hindustan in the 17th century, with only tidbits of religion.

The Plot:
Princess Jahanara lives in the gilded cage of her father's harem, only seeing brief glimpses of the outside world when her mother takes her to see her father keeping court, or when accompanied by her brothers. Her brother, Aurangzeb is her most frequent tormentor, and she fears that he may someday try to overthrow her father's favorite, Dara, to acquire the throne. But with an upcoming marriage binding her to a stranger, will she be able to have her say in her country's fate?

An interesting aspect of this book is the way the story is presented. The author switches between the present time with an elderly Jahanara telling the tale to her granddaughters, and the story itself. By doing this, the reader gains an epilogue of sorts, where you can see that Jahanara survives to tell the tale and had children, but the mystery remains until later of who their grandfather might be, and what has caused her to go into hiding.

This book is more of the historical fiction genre than the romance one, as it features realistic occurrences, like Jahanara's marriage to a man twice her age, who she has no love for. Although she is relatively pampered in her father's household, in her husband's things aren't so rosy, and her only value is for ornamental purposes or for bearing children. As she was taught to think freely, this naturally becomes hard for her to bear, and her position as a Princess isn't as enviable. The reader is shown the contrast between Jahanara's life and that of her Hindu servant (and friend) Ladli, who decides to love more freely, and it becomes clear that women with higher rank often suffer for it.

Beneath a Marble Sky is one of the better historical fictions I've read, as the author effortlessly transported me to an exotic realm of grandeur, tragedy, and romance. Although this book is fiction, the details are fairly true to the era: loveless arranged marriages, people proposing to kill a man who stole a sack of rice, as well as political posturing and intrigue. I would recommend this book to people who want to feel like they're travelling back in time to 17th century India, without the need for a time machine.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for two enthralling love stories behind one of the world's greatest monuments.

Content: Polygamy, marital rape (not too graphic), and minor violence. Better read when ages 18+.

Page Count: 344 pages

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blog News: Vacation Time and Liebster Re-Nomination

From my last vacation near Polson, MT.
This week I'll be heading back to Montana to spend a week with my friend. But instead of leaving you hanging, I've pre-written and scheduled all my regular posts ahead of time, so there won't be any halt to the book love. That said, I've had issues with scheduled posts in the past, and they could get lost in the internet wormhole, so if a week goes by and you don't hear from me, that's why.

I also was re-nominated for a Liebster Award by the The Girls From the Bookwhore Diaries (thanks Undomesticated Fangirl and Daydreamer Reader!), but this time, I'm not nominating anyone else, except perhaps those of you who are reading this. To all of my readers, whether you're a blogger or not, congratulations: You've Won a Liebster Award! Do with it what you will.

The 11 Facts About Me can be seen here.

Questions From the Undomestic Fangirl and the Daydreamer Reader:
1. Name your top three phobias.
Running out of books to read, running out of books to critique, and running out of colorful writing implements.
2. What do you wish you could say you discovered (thing/place/person)?
I wish I'd discovered Montana, but then again I couldn't have been born there if I had discovered it.
3. From all the books you've read, which is your least favorite? Why?
Maximum Ride by James Patterson, because the sentences and structure made no sense.
4. You are the judge for the coolest book ever written, what book would get the award? Why?
The King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, because it's a children's book with a universal theme.
5. If you could choose one character from a book who would come here into our world, who would it be?
Odd Thomas, but he'd be awful lonely without his soulmate...
6. Name the top three dream jobs you'd like to have.
Veterinarian, Acquiring Editor at a Publishing Firm, or maybe just be an Author.
7. If you had a shot at being in the front page of every newspaper or magazine in the world, what would be your favored headline?
Dead girl rises again. See 11 facts about me. It's rather humorous.
8. If you could write out the rest of your life, what would happen this year?
I'd magically finish the book I've been sculpting for the past 10 years and publish it to great acclaim.
9. One day, you suddenly woke up and found that you were a Hollywood celebrity. What is the first thing you will do?
Scream. Loudly. And hope I got back into my real life.
10. If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
Rob a bank. That's the right answer, right?
11. What invention would you like to offer to the world today?
A cure for cancer. That's really all we need in this day and age.

I'll be back...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Confessions: All's Well That Ends Well (With Gifs)

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #6

I must confess: if I read a book I think I really like, and the ending is not good, it can poison the entire book for me. And vice versa: if I read a book I think I hate, but it ends well, it may merit three stars (or even more) from me.

To explain this phenomena, let's take a moment to discuss how long an average reader might spend on a 200 page novel. I estimate it would take one to three hours of distraction-free commitment, maybe even more for readers whose imaginations wander. Many books are more than 200 pages, but with this exercise I chose to use a little book, with only a little bit of wasted time.

Now imagine, after reading for approximately two hours on a small book, you come to the ending pages of the novel, and discover the author has chosen to resolve NOTHING. Or, as in the case of some books I've rated poorly, the author destroys the entire story and plot-line by proving the story never happened.

All gifs from
Let me say this: I forgive many things in books including generic characters, uninteresting plots, and blah writing; I have even been known to forgive spelling and grammar mistakes (on occasion). But if I spend two hours reading a book, and instead of ending it, an author just stops writing without notice, you may see me transform into a veritable Hulk me transform Conan O'Brien into a veritable Hulk.

I don't need a happily ever after ending- I don't need the characters to be even happy in the end. What I need in exchange for two or more hours of my precious time is for the ending to have closure. Maybe the protagonist goes to jail- maybe the antagonist gets killed- maybe all the characters end up being aliens and take off in an UFO to Mars. As long as I have a sense of what has transpired in the pages actually was resolved, you can count on me to rate it much better than if it didn't.

So when I look for books on Goodreads, I scan reviews for the possibility of a bad ending. If I'm particularly worried about a book I'm about to invest in, I even click the "show spoiler" button. And if I read one line about someone complaining about a terrible ending, this is my reaction:

Have you ever read a book that you thought you liked until you read the ending? Are there books you've read that were made infinitely better because of their endings? Am I alone with my raging reactions to books that end badly?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"The Shadow of the Wind" By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This book is one I knew I would like, but secretly waited for it to disappoint me. I'm happy to say my reader's intuition was right, and I was not disappointed at all. Another book about books, The Shadow of the Wind can be enjoyed by pretty much any reader, regardless of reading experience.

Something that may be overlooked in this book is a passage towards the back, where you can follow along in Daniel's footsteps through Barcelona with photographs, which is nice for those of us who've never been there, or those who plan to visit Spain in the near future. While reading this book, I consulted it for a feel of the ambience of the area, as well as for its map.

The Plot:
Young Daniel is a bookseller's son, and is granted access to a place known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He finds one book out of thousands, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, and takes it home with him. After reading, he sets out to find more of the mysterious author's works, only to find they are near impossible to find: someone doesn't want Carax's books read, and is destroying every copy they come across. Will Daniel be able to find who is desecrating the books before his own copy is on the burn list?

Some parts in the beginning of this book made me grimace: there was a voyeuristic sex scene and shortly after Daniel got beaten up. When I see these in fantasy, it doesn't turn me off, but historical fiction usually doesn't have scenes like that, and at times, this book felt more like a crime genre novel than anything else. But despite those aspects, I truly loved the storytelling in this book: the story within a story feature, the dual love stories, and especially the setting and characters.

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books may be my favorite fictional creation. I always love old books, or books that are overlooked, or books that have sat on the bottom shelves of thrift stores so long they have dust on their pages. As a book hoarder rescuer, I tend to look for books that the Cemetery of Forgotten Books would have many of: out-of-prints, first editions, and books with character (imperfect, well-loved books with wear marks included).

It's kind of odd, but my favorite character of the entire book is not Daniel, it's a character we meet about sixty pages in, Fermín Romero de Torres. When we meet him, he's a beggar claiming to be a spy, but he evolves so much more throughout the course of the book. He's the comic relief, as well as that weird uncle whose relation we can't quite remember that we all seem to have.

The Shadow of the Wind encompasses many genres: crime, mystery, historical fiction, a touch of romance, gothic, and literature. With all of those genres and subplots, you'd think the story would get lost in the nuances, but it doesn't, showing that with enough ingenuity you can write books that overflow with ideas. If you seek a book with memorable characters and settings, this one may be for you.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for another great novel about my favorite subject: books.

Content: Sex, violence, and cruelty to books, so ages 18+.

Page Count: 487 in my paperback edition.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen

This is a book that combines the ominous historical elements of the Holocaust with the whimsy of a fairy tale, without being drawn out or boring. I read this last year, and was unaware that people considered it of the Young Adult genre, mainly because the heroine is twenty three years old and is taking care of her

I was in the same position a year ago, living with my grandma who is elderly, along with my mother. My grandma is a gem of a person, and she has so much experience in life that boggles the mind: she was at the very first school shooting in America, she was raised on a farm and rode a horse or walked to school, and decided to be a nurse when it was highly controversial (young women looking after male bodies was a no-no at the time). While I was reading this book, I found the heroine immensely relatable due to that: she saw her grandmother as a person, even in her most senile of moments, which is how it should be. Not everyone has the experience of caring for grandparents, and so I decided to add my two cents: this book is incredibly accurate in its depictions of the elderly, and even the nursing homes- many are still like that today, despite our best efforts to make them home-like and sanitary.

The Plot:
Twenty-three year old Becca visits her grandmother more frequently than even her parents, leaving her sisters to scold her for it. Before her grandmother passes, she is insistent that Becca know she is Briar Rose and once lived in a castle, and wants Becca to find it. Becca promises her this after much coercion, and shortly after her grandmother passes, leaving a mysterious rose-carved box full of breadcrumbs (newspaper clippings, heirlooms, and photos) for her granddaughter to help find her past.

What is so unusual about this take of the Holocaust history is that the author makes it clear that not everyone who was sent to death camps was Jewish. Sure, the majority of people were of the Jewish faith, but there were also gay people, Romani people, communists, people who protested or thought freely, and people who were reported by their neighbors. A lot of Holocaust fiction may only briefly mention the other peoples who were sent to be slaughtered, but one of the key characters in this book isn't Jewish and was sent to a death camp, which you typically don't find in the genre.

Briar Rose is about finding a family's heritage, written in such a way that it makes you curious as to what might be your family's secrets and stories. Holocaust fiction never makes for a light read, but this book captures the essence of a fairy tale, along with its depth. After you read this book, you won't think of Sleeping Beauty in the same way again: the real Sleeping Beauty has a crown of red hair, and she just may be Becca's grandmother.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for a "better than the actual fairy tale", historical fairy tale.

Content: Aspects of the Holocaust are always disturbing and violent, I advise ages 14+.

Page Count: 200 pages in my paperback edition
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