Thursday, April 30, 2015

Month in Review for April: Gah- is That a...?

April has been an exciting/bewildering month for me, mostly because it doesn't seem I've been blogging a year. I also had my first blog-related dream the other night, but for the life of me I can't remember what I was typing up in it.

Midway through writing this post, I evicted myself from my room/office after spotting a mouse headed for my walk-in closet, so that is partly why this post took so long, and has a lot fewer photos than I planned. I cannot think with renegade mice crawling on my carpet, so I hijacked my mother's uber-slow laptop. Marcia the squirrel is fairly benevolent, in that she doesn't hide in my closet/scare me half to death when she appears. The mouse who is holing up in my closet... well... it makes me wish I had a cat again, is all.

 Total Posts: 15
  Total Critiques: 7
    Fantasy: 2
     Magical Realism: 1
    Part of a Series: 2
    Sci-fi/Dystopia: 1
    Steampunk: 1
    Out-of-Orbit: 1
    Urban Fantasy: 1

Most Popular Posts of April:
Victorian Soul Critiques's First Blogiversary Party and Giveaways!!!
O.o.O.C.: "The Pianist" by Władysław Szpilman
Confessions on One year of Blogging: Dos and Don'ts
One Year of Blogging: Favorite Posts, Reviews, and Other Experiences
Getting to Know This Strange Person Who Blogs Me
"The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1)" by Soman Chainani

Pageviews for the Month: 1400!
Comments: 22!

Reading Challenges Updates:

Snowflake and Spider Silk Bingo Challenge

Applicable Books:
From January:
Song of Blood and Stone (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope (POC main character)
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger (New to me author)
Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger (2nd book in a series)
Blameless (Parasol Protectorate #3) by Gail Carriger (female author)
From February:
Unseen (Unborn #2) by Amber Lynn Natusch (published 2015)
Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop (Urban Fantasy)
From March:
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (written before 2000- it was first published in 1998)
Anthem by Ayn Rand (Novella/Short Story)
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (Dystopia)
From April:
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Humorous SF/F)
"The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1)" by Soman Chainani (fairy tale retelling)

I may do some rearranging later in the challenge, since that's allowed.

Travel the World in Books Challenge

Applicable Books:
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1) by Alexander McCall Smith (Set in Botswana- my first book set in Botswana)
The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman (Set in Warsaw, Poland)

Reading Stats:

Books read in April: 9

Book Stats:
Has a Diverse Main Character: 1
Doesn't Have a Diverse MC: 8
Female Main Character: 5
Male Main Character: 1
Pair and/or Group of Female/Male Main Characters: 3
 Urban Fantasy: 1
 Contemporary/Mystery: 1
 Historical Romance: 2
 Fantasy: 2
 Science Fiction Dystopia: 1
 Memoir: 1
 Magical Realism: 1
Published in 2015: 1
Published in 2000-2014: 4
Published in 1990s: 2
Published in 1970-1989: 1
Published in 1900-1950: 1
Self-Published, Small Press, or Other: 1
Traditionally Published: 8
Series Books: 4
Standalones: 5
Ebook Version: 5
Paper Version: 4
Favorite of the Month: a Tie- Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman, and The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Least Favorite of the Month: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (It was good, but not my favorite because it was outside my usual genre diet)
From the-pile: 3
From the-invisible-pile: 2
Recently acquired: 8
Added to the-invisible-pile in April: 5
Books bought: 5 ebooks, 3 books
Pages Read in 2015 (according to Goodreads): 10986

5 Stars: 0
4-4.5 Stars: 4
3-3.5 Stars: 5
2-2.5 Stars: 0

Author Stats (1 = 1 book read by x author):
Male: 4
Female: 5
Diverse: 1
Not-so-Diverse: 8
Living: 8
Deceased: 1

Planning to Read in May (All Those Review Copies):

The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key #1) by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith (Victorian Urban Fantasy)

*Doesn't have a cover yet, but it will be pretty*
First of Spring (Gardinian World #3) by Kelsey Jordan (Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance)

The Preview Edition of When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner (Is supposed to be Rothfussian Fantasy)

Upcoming Posts:

Hopefully I'll have some of those read-for-review books devoured soon, because that is all I have planned for "upcoming".

*hides from mouse*,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"The Princess Bride" by William Goldman

So a masked man, the Sicilian Crowd, and a semi-suicidal princess/bride-to-be walk into a bar hang off a rope tethered to the Cliffs of Insanity...

I don't know if I've read this book before, or if I've seen the movie so many times it feels like I've read the book. Either way, I was long overdue for reading/rereading it, and I'm happy to report it was even better than I expected it to be.

The Plot:
Buttercup had her heart broken when her true love, Wesley, was killed by pirates. But soon after, she catches the attention of Prince Humperdinck due to her beauty, and is given a choice: to wed him or to die. She chose to wed him, but soon finds herself kidnapped by a motley crowd of criminals: Will she be able to escape her captors before it's too late?

As much as this book is an obvious satire- there are also traces of to blave true love for those of us who like romance. Certainly, there's a great deal of gushy-ness in that aspect, but I didn't find it near as corny as Tom Cruise saying "You complete me," in Jerry Maguire. It seems absurd, but I understand the romance makes more sense in the book than in the movie for me- perhaps because there's more preliminary building?

My favorite characters, however have not changed. I do love Buttercup and her story of true love, but I have always favored characters out for revenge, and so Inigo Montoya has always been my favorite of the bunch- but really- all the characters are awesome, from the Albino to the deaf Archdean of Florin. Also, I'd be remiss not to mention Fezzik, but I'm afraid I have no rhymes for his name... perhaps my rhyming has come up lame?

So by now you should presume, "Litha rated it 5 Stars, right? She admits to loving it." But, there is two lines in the book that upset my moral code of honor- and most of you who've read this book may know what I'm talking about. I admit I love crass humor- South Park was one of my favorite shows as a teen, but I can't help but be irritated when I find a way-out-of-date racial slur in a book that was published in 1973. I know- the '70s were a long time ago, but to live through the '60s and still have that ugly word in your writing vocab- even for a satirical and crass joke, it's a low blow.

The Princess Bride is everything I hoped it would be, but is a few words from my top-tier rating of 5 stars. I've watched the film, so I assumed this book's magic might be lost on me, but to my surprise, it exceeded expectations. So, if you've watched the movie and are afraid it may have ruined the book for you, don't worry: there's still a high probability you'll love this book. If you love tales of high adventure, true love, with a bit of a criminal element added in, I recommend The Princess Bride for your next read.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for a new/old favorite book!

Content: Ages 14+ for one outdated racial slur against Latinos, men getting a little slap-happy, a woman getting shove-happy, and various torture/revenge scenes.

Page Count: 283 pages

Your Favorite Quotes (Taken From My Rafflecopter Blogiversary Giveaway)

"Life isn't fair, it's just fairer than death, that's all."

"Just because you're beautiful and perfect, it's made you conceited."

"As you wish."

"I'm not a witch, I'm your wife, but after what you just said, I'm not sure I want to be that anymore!"

"I just want you to feel you're doing well. I hate for people to die embarrassed."

"First things first: to the death." "No- to the pain."

"Surrender." "You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept."

"They're kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?"

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Life is pain, highness; anyone who says differently is selling something."
~This was the most popular line, and also my favorite, and actually does show up in the book from a completely different character.

"Your true love lives. And you marry another. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that's what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo."

"You've been chasing me your entire life, only to fail now. I think that's the worst thing I've ever heard: how marvelous."

Check out the cool (but mildly unhelpful) book map for this book on my latest edition of the Sunday Fun Five.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

SFF: The 5 Book Maps That Could Be/Are Works of Art

The Sunday Fun Five #26

Sunday Fun 5:
#19: The 5 Books To Kickstart Your Reading Journey
#20: The 5 Character Couples that are Matches Made in Heaven
#21: The 5 Unconventional Romances that Somehow Worked for You
#22: The 5 Books That Remind You of Spring
#23: The 5 Irish Authors Whose Works You Want to Read More Of
#24: The 5 Books With Endings that Made You Mad
#25: The 5 Sunday Fun Fives I Had the Most Fun With
#26: The 5 Book Maps That Could Be/Are Works of Art
For the 10th of May: #27: The 5 Books You've Been Meaning to Review But Haven't Yet
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 Book Maps That Could Be/Are Works of Art

From Entropy
5. A Map of Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is the classic fantasy map: many (or most) fantasy maps try to emulate this one. As a classic piece of map-art, it's great, but some maps are a bit more functional/user-eye-friendly than this one.

From Entropy
4. A Map of Florin and Guilder from The Princess Bride by William Goldman
More decorative than functional, this map of Florin and Guilder captures the spirit of the book in brilliant turquoise color. Still, it was this map that made me want to finally pick up the book again- I think I may have read it before, but my book memories are somewhat murky on whether I have or not.

From Geek
3. A Map of Westeros and Essos from the A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin
The original map that came with the books isn't that lovely- but with a little help from rabid fans (and/or the HBO series), we now have realistic maps of Westeros to aid you in your A Song of Ice and Fire travels. The one I've linked to even has an interactive version you can play with.

From The Stormlight Archive Wikia
2. A Map of Roshar from The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
I like this map mainly because it shows you how huge the world of Roshar is, and what little we've seen of parts of it (as of the second book in a ten tome series). Nothing makes me more excited to read the third book in the series than this map, except maybe that the series kept getting better for me as I read more.

From Harry Potter Wikia
1. The Marauder's Map from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
This map gets an A+ in functionality: not only is it pretty to look at- it also shows you where someone is. For that reason, the Marauder's Map takes the cake as far as bookish maps go, as long as you solemnly swear you are up to no good, that is.

A Notable Exclusion:
From David Anthony Durham's Website
A (Complete) Map of the Known World from the Acacia series by David Anthony Durham
This is another of my favorites, but mainly because when you begin the series, much like A Song of Ice and Fire, you are confined to one area. And the area in play broadens with each book until the third, when you get this huge map. Not many series have as much depth in their maps as this one does.

What's your favorite literary map? Do you use the maps that come with books, or do you just power through without referencing it?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven was one of the huge buzz books of 2014, and since it was a dystopian I picked it up, once it was adequately cheap, of course. My initial impressions were that the book might land among one of my favorites because the beginning was so promising. I tend to love books that enthrall you and keep you entertained, and although there were a few slow spots near the end, Station Eleven fits the bill for that type of book.

The book's title comes from a small-batch graphic novel one of the heroines created in the world before the Georgia Flu. In a way, the book mimics the themes of that graphic novel, even though the graphic novel is set on a space station known as Station Eleven. The reader is occasionally given glimpses of the text and scenes of the graphic novel, but the majority of it remains a mystery.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
'One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
'Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
'Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.'

The strengths of this book are its writing and characterization: we get to see Kirsten grow up, Arthur live and die, and Jeevan try to keep it together. Unfortunately, most of the plot relies on connecting the characters and telling their stories, not necessarily including a dynamic plot you'd expect of a dystopian in the age of The Hunger Games and Divergent. It also reminded me in particular of a story I've read before (as a teen): How I Live Now, which is exactly as its title tells you it will be. So if you're expecting something completely different from the mainstream (which I was hoping for) Station Eleven isn't exactly it.

The book is, however, incredibly melodramatic with its narration. I'm the type of reader who loves that sort of thing (i.e. all of the people in this scene died within two weeks, etc.), but it might bug you if you don't like a little drama. If you plan on reading this, you also might benefit from loving Shakespeare or Star Trek, as there are references scattered throughout. I probably didn't catch all of them, but the main theme of the Traveling Symphony is based around the Star Trek: Voyager quote: "Survival is insufficient".

Station Eleven is a book I'd like to see the graphic novel version of... and I don't even really read graphic novels. I think I would've liked this book better had I not been expecting a flashy ending, but when you're brought into the book with such a solid, dramatic beginning, you expect the book not to end with a whisper. If you like character-driven storylines in a world where the ones who can remember the time before reminisce about emails, this might be the book for you.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a beautifully written book that's a little short on plot.

Content: Ages 16+ for occasional violence, camping beneath the stars, and sexual references.

Page Count: 352 pages

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Turtle Moon" by Alice Hoffman

I generally dislike anything contemporary, but in the case of Alice Hoffman novels, I love it. She's well-known for her use of magical realism, taking fantastic elements and weaving them into the plot of something set in our world, without the 'start-from-scratch' world building of urban fantasy.

In the case of this novel, most of the magical realism elements are set around the human connection to animals, and the chaos around month of May that takes over the small town of Verity, Florida every year. Verity is newly inundated with single mothers, due to the low cost of living and the scenery. Even though it seems a relatively placid place to live, the month of May brings about drastic changes in the town.

The Plot:
When the meanest boy in Verity, Florida, Keith, runs away with an orphaned baby girl whose mother has been murdered, his mother Lucy refuses to believe he's guilty of the crime, even when evidence suggests otherwise. Julian Cash, who is a specialist with Verity's canine police unit, uses his dogs to dig up clues to Keith's whereabouts, but will the murderer be found in time?

Animals always seem to crop up in Alice Hoffman's books, whether it's the doves of The Dovekeepers, the horses of The Foretelling, or the wolves of Second Nature. In this book, the main theme is dogs, although a gator does pop up in the course of the story. Julian has two dogs he uses to track suspects: Loretta, a relatively well-behaved shepherd, and Arrow, a semi-feral "air dog" whose nose can track anything rotten, even long-dead things. Arrow forms a special connection with one of the characters late in the book, proving although he won't let anyone else touch him, he isn't as rabid as he seems.

We also get to see the other side of a relative ne'er-do-well, Keith, and his grown-up equivalent, Julian. Keith seems to get into more trouble when he moves to Verity, pining for New York, where his father lives, instead of the smothering heat of Florida. Julian is a man of few words when the book begins, but subtle changes take place in his life throughout the book. He has many things he's done wrong in life and realizes that, but sticks relatively to the straight and narrow path as this book plays out.

My favorite quote:

"But doing the right thing doesn't mean you can sleep at night. It doesn't mean you won't regret it for the rest of your life."

      ~Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman, page 238

Turtle Moon has every element I love about Alice Hoffman's novels: animals, a small town setting, and genuine human beings as characters. Although I would have liked to see a little more about a certain angel that haunts a tree in town, it really couldn't have been a much better read for me. If you like contemporary, but aren't afraid of mixing it up with a little suspense and fantastical elements, you should consider giving Turtle Moon a try.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for an exceptional portrait of a town called Verity!

Content: Ages 16+ for non-graphic sex scenes, violence, Diet Dr. Pepper-addicted divorcees, and one loyal dog.

Page Count: 255 pages in my hardcover edition.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Early Critique: "Dreams of Shreds and Tatters" by Amanda Downum

Disclaimer: I was given a free advanced e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever.

To Be Published: May 12th

This is a genuinely dark urban fantasy that flirts with horror at points. It reminded me of several books I've read before: Tithe by Holly Black, which is a YA favorite of mine, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which held greater similarity due to the inclusion of mythology. Although I was led to believe I may have accidentally stumbled onto a YA book by requesting this, it turns out all the characters are mid-twenties and the other content suggests this would be more suitable for adults.

It isn't often you have books including artists as their main cast of characters, but when you do, you can expect some tropes. That would be true of the characters in this book- drug-addicted artists who don't realize what they're getting into until their charismatic fearless leader drops the net on them. Although they aren't all how you'd expect them to be, I never really felt I knew most of them by the time the book was over.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'When Liz Drake's best friend vanishes, nothing can stop her nightmares. Driven by the certainty he needs her help, she crosses a continent to search for him.
'She finds Blake comatose in a Vancouver hospital, victim of a mysterious accident that claimed his lover's life--in her dreams he drowns. Blake's new circle of artists and mystics draws her in, but all of them are lying or keeping dangerous secrets. Soon nightmare creatures stalk the waking city, and Liz can't fight a dream from the daylight world: to rescue Blake she must brave the darkest depths of the dreamlands. Even the attempt could kill her, or leave her mind trapped or broken.
'And if she succeeds, she must face the monstrous Yellow King, whose slave Blake is on the verge of becoming forever.'

The plot, although not entirely enthralling, held my attention throughout the book. Some of the same themes from Tithe popped up in this book: a girl out to save her male friend (who happens to be gay) from whatever sinister force holds him. But other than that, there weren't a lot of plot similarities to other books- just a lot of strange mythological references that made you feel like you were caught in a nightmare.

One dazzling thing this book has to offer is excellent phraseology- the author clearly has a way with words. I hate it when I read a book that feels like its written exactly the same as a previous one I've read before, so the original wordsmithery was a major plus. I usually loathe excess description, but during the few times the author lapsed into it, I was impressed rather than distressed by it.

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters is a beautifully penned, mythology-riddled urban fairy tale. The main weaknesses I felt the story had were in character portrayals- most of the characters remained strangers to me throughout the entire book. Nonetheless, this book will appeal to anyone who likes eerie tales of modern life that spawn portals to other realms. I recommend this to those who love authors who use their words artistically, and don't mind darker urban fantasy.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for an artistically influenced story of twisted love.

Content: Ages 18+ for sexual references, drugs, and rock 'n' roll art world horror (violence and gore).

Page Count: 256 pages

Sunday, April 19, 2015

NQAC: Biweekly Update #9: Mountains of Books and That '80s Motorhome Reno

My weeks have become a bit of a blur- I actually missed one of my appointments because I've had such a nonstop schedule. However, I did manage to acquire a mountain of books in the last few weeks: some deals were too good to pass up!

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

Thrift Shopping:

I found killer deals on some of R.A. Salvatore's books, so naturally I bought all three bricks/omnibuses (I told my mother I could build a wall with them if I didn't like them- and was only slightly kidding). Also, another book I bought out of order for the Avalon series (which I just can't buy new), and The Dragonbone Chair, which I've passed up before but decided to buy this time because Idaho isn't exactly sporting the glut of SFF books that Montana does.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy Collector's Edition (The Icewind Dale Trilogy #1-3 omnibus) by R.A. Salvatore

Legacy of the Drow Collector's Edition (Legacy of the Drow #1-4 omnibus) by R.A. Salvatore

Paths of Darkness Collector's Edition (Paths of Darkness #1-4 omnibus) by R.A. Salvatore

The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #1) by Tad Williams

Ancestors of Avalon (Avalon #5) by Diana L. Paxson, Marion Zimmer Bradley


The Red Knight (The Traitor Son Cycle #1) by Miles Cameron
It has dragons in it. I buy books with dragons in them. Enough said.


I thought all my requests had been answered two weeks ago, but I received another ARC from NetGalley this week (which I had frankly forgotten entirely about requesting it).

The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key #1) by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith
This is also pegged as Victorian Urban Fantasy, a label which disappointed me in The Eterna Files, but we'll see how it goes.

A few weeks ago, I won a couple of books and bookmarks from My Addiction: Books' blogiversary party.

Slip (Slip #1) by David Estes, and some super sweet signed bookmarks from the man himself.

And also, The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, which I devoured awhile ago.

But wait- there's more! Last week my mom bought an older motorhome from some people in a rural area near one of the cities around these parts. She'd told the lady about my book blog when she went there a week before, and the lady sent me a pile of books when my mom finally went and bought the thing.

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt

The White Queen (The Cousins' War #1) by Philippa Gregory

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1) by Alexander McCall Smith (which I'm currently reading)

I'm pretty overbooked for reading time at the moment!

Currently Reading:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Yawn-inducing, but the plot is interesting. Too bad half the book is description!

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1) by Alexander McCall Smith
I'm liking it a lot, despite it not being my usual read. But because it's semi-contemporary set in Botswana, it almost reads like a historical because their (late nineties) technology isn't exactly the tech of 2015.

Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman
Because I've been in such a strange reading mood lately, I decided to spur my speed by reading a book I haven't read from one of my favorite authors. So far, it's good, because Diet Dr. Pepper is mentioned. I love Diet Dr. Pepper!

Finished These Books:

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum
You'll hear all about this in an upcoming review. Although it was beautifully penned, the plot and characters weren't my favorites.

The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45 by Władysław Szpilman
You may have seen my review of it late yesterday- it was an excellent book.

Worth: Lord of Reckoning by Grace Burrowes
Pretty usual fare as far as historical romance goes, but I loved the hero/heroine combo. I also saw some negative reviews complaining about the heroine not succumbing semi-soon to the hero's charms- that was actually something that made me rate this three stars. I can't stand the predictable formula most historical romance books throw together, and this book didn't follow it.

In the Blogosphere:
Skipping this segment to get this post published within a reasonable time frame- I am the consummate procrastinator lately!

In My Life:

Speaking of the old ('80s) motor home, we are currently freshening it up with new paint and upholstery. We have our colors, but the painting and stitching will go on next weekend (maybe).

(I love gray and pastels in real life too.)

Anyone else have any renovation or painting projects in their near future? 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

O.o.O.C.: "The Pianist" by Władysław Szpilman

It's been awhile since I finished my last Travel the World in Books Challenge pick, which was originally why I picked this book up back in March. I assumed because it was short in page length that I'd be able to devour this in a few days.

The thing I always (always) seem to underestimate when I read memoirs is the emotional impact. You can't read a Holocaust memoir without having some sort of inner monologue going on (like, "I know what's going to happen here, but I don't really want to read it and know for certain it did."). Memoirs in general are a frustration to me because you want to build a time machine and prevent things from happening. And, as of yet, my time machine is nonfunctional, so I can't go back and shave Hilter's mustache/soul patch off so he's too embarrassed to be the evil mastermind behind the bulk of the second World War.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'The last live broadcast on Polish Radio, on September 23, 1939, was Chopin's Nocturne in C# Minor, played by a young pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman, until his playing was interrupted by German shelling. It was the same piece and the same pianist, when broadcasting resumed six years later. The Pianist is Szpilman's account of the years in between, of the death and cruelty inflicted on the Jews of Warsaw and on Warsaw itself, related with a dispassionate restraint borne of shock. Szpilman, now 88, has not looked at his description since he wrote it in 1946 (the same time as Primo Levi's If This Is A Man?; it is too personally painful. The rest of us have no such excuse.'

The parts I liked best of this book are at the very beginning and the very end. When we are introduced to Władysław's family, you feel like you've met them before somewhere- they're that familiar. Although I did watch the movie version of The Pianist, the scenes I recall the most were when he was completely alone, so it wasn't from that. That sense of familiar almost-intimacy with the people of the book makes it that much harder to read through quickly- you don't want anything bad to happen to them, but still realize this is a WWII memoir.

At the very end, we get a second view of the story through another's eyes, which makes it all the more painfully beautiful to read. It isn't often I skim through sections just to keep myself from tears, but yes- that epilogue I couldn't read fully because I already knew the ending.

The Pianist, like all Holocaust memoirs, is a book that ensures the happenings of World War II won't be forgotten. The story itself is unlike many others because of an unlikely hero stepping in to keep Władysław alive long enough to see the war end. Although in certain areas, the recollections seemed stilted because of the sheer amount of detail, The Pianist manages to retain the reader's interest via an emotional resonance. If you've watched the movie and haven't gotten to the book yet, I strongly recommend this heart-rending memoir.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an emotionally tumultuous memoir.

Content: Ages 16+ for graphic violence and war crimes.

Page Count: 222 pages

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Early Critique: "Unseemly Science (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2)" by Rod Duncan

Disclaimer: I was given a free advanced e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever.

To Be Released: May 5th

If you haven't read the first book in The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series, there are spoilers in this review for you (even just from the Plot summary). My review of The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is here.

Unseemly Science doesn't begin with the bullet-like plot trajectory seen in The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter. There's more complexity to the story because of some of the events of the first book. Although it wasn't a slow beginning, it lacked the instantaneous hook the previous book had, and adds more grim moments when you wonder how much of the first book's joie de vivre was due in part to Elizabeth's outlook.

The cover of this book should tell you a lot about it- I haven't encountered a more fitting cover for the second installment of a series. After reading this book for an hour or so, it gives you that slightly sinister feeling of hairs being raised on the back of your neck. Who's out to get Elizabeth this time? Or should the question be, who's not out to get Elizabeth this time?

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life - as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy!
'There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…'

The political angles of this series continue to evolve. In the previous book, Elizabeth escapes what would amount to slavery by fleeing to the oh-so-sexist Anglo-Scottish Republic again. Because the influential person who was looking for her in the Kingdom has learned of her continued existence, tensions against immigrants in the Republic have risen. As a result, Elizabeth has to rely on more than her own finely honed instincts to survive in this book.

I had worried going in that this book might be too romantic compared with its only slightly romantic predecessor- and my fears were allayed when Elizabeth Barnabus continued to be her very independent self. Not that I don't like romance in a story, but certain stories have heroines who it would take a good deal of time to warm to the idea of 'loving' someone, and Elizabeth Barnabus is one of them. Although there are moments where you wonder if she screwed her head on right that morning, the only romance this book has to offer is epic slow-build, which I love.

One of my favorite parts of the book was one of the plot twists, which, as a science-fiction-minded junior high school student (and a fan of all things macabre) I had done a lot of research on. This element, which will not be named (because I hate spoilers and it happens late in the book) was well-executed and the perfect fit for a book that has a certain chill going on. It made me mentally tip my fedora to Mr. Duncan and declare, "Well played, sir".

I didn't predict the twists that Unseemly Science threw at me. Not only is this book much darker than its predecessor, it also keeps you in more suspense, which is a feat considering I compared The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter to a spy novel. All in all, this book met my expectations and left me wondering how long I have to wait before I get my hands on the next installment of the series. I recommend this to everyone who loves independent heroines and alternate history plots with some science fiction elements blended in.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for a sequel that takes a macabre turn!

Content: Ages 18+ for horror-esque themes (which I can't explain without spoiling), violence, and hair-raising moments.

Page Count: 368 pages 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

SFF: The 5 Sunday Fun Fives I Had the Most Fun With

The Sunday Fun Five #25

Sunday Fun 5:
#19: The 5 Books To Kickstart Your Reading Journey
#20: The 5 Character Couples that are Matches Made in Heaven
#21: The 5 Unconventional Romances that Somehow Worked for You
#22: The 5 Books That Remind You of Spring
#23: The 5 Irish Authors Whose Works You Want to Read More Of
#24: The 5 Books With Endings that Made You Mad
#25: The 5 Sunday Fun Fives I Had the Most Fun With
For the 26th of April: #26: The 5 Book Maps That Could Be/Are Works of Art
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 Sunday Fun Fives I Had the Most Fun With

5. The First Sunday Fun Five: The 5 Stages of Reading a Bad Book
For my first Sunday Fun Five, I made all the pictures myself. Not that I haven't since, but it's certainly easier to Google images than it is to make them.

4. The Ninth Sunday Fun Five: The 5 Alternate Blog Names For Your Blog
Taking my love of graphic design (and PicMonkey) to the next level, I tried to imagine what other blog names I may have come up with if I hadn't already chosen the name "Victorian Soul Critiques". I had a lot of fun designing these, even though it took a lot more time than my usual SFF posts.

3. The Tenth Sunday Fun Five:  The 5 Books That Make You Want to Go Places
Inspired in part by the Travel the World in Books Readathon, I thought of all the books that made me want to go somewhere. What makes this more fun was some of the places I hadn't realized were based on actual places (like Manderley from Rebecca).

2. The Sixteenth Sunday Fun Five: The 5 Best Gifts For Book Lovers
This was a very easy one to throw together, because it was pre-Christmas and I was drooling over all the things that might end up under my tree. One of my favorites to investigate was the "Bookish Series Collectables", which turned up a lot more options than I'd anticipated.

1. The Eighth Sunday Fun Five: The 5 Books You'd Rather Steal Than Wait For (To Be Published)
I was so upset there wasn't even a cover for some of the books I'd rather steal than wait for, that I made several mockups of what they should look like. Since I couldn't computer generate the mockup for Doors of Stone, I decided to use my (admittedly rusty) sketching skills to draw what I thought Doors of Stone might actually look like... and had a lot of fun in the process.

Which posts do you have the most fun creating/writing for your blog?

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