Saturday, June 6, 2020

June 2020 TBR

Summer is on the doorstep and it's time to get some good reading in out by the pool...in our case that's the inflatable kiddie pool, but it keeps the kids happy and gives me a break from chasing them around since I have strategically placed it inside of the outdoor playpen so they can't escape. *Insert evil mom laugh here*

Like every other month thus far this year, I have PACKED my TBR with a pile of books. I won't likely get to them all within the month, but I like to have options and I would rather have extras than run out of books in the plan. I know it's weird, heaven knows I have a hundred books just waiting to be read so I could easily scout out another, but it works for me.

The June slate is an eclectic one, with middle grade, YA, and adult books represented. There are also fantasies, historical fiction, contemporaries, scifi, and even a horror. It's quite the hodgepodge, but I'm very excited for these reads. 
(I have them listed in a bit of an order based upon some readathon plans I have for the month, but that's never a guarantee that I will read them as listed.)

Let's take a peek at what's on the list:


              

1. Sin Eater by Megan Campisi - Historical Fiction (2020)
2. Last Memoria by Rachel Emma Shaw - Fantasy (2020)
3. Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff - Science Fiction (2018)
4. Nevertell by Katharine Orton - Middle Grade Fantasy (2019)


5. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins - Contemporary (2020)
6. Open Book by Jessica Simpson - Memoir (2020)
7. The Claires by C.L. Gaber - Supernatural Fantasy (2020)
8. The Kiminee Dream by Laura McHale Holland - Magical Realism (2020)

            

9. The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune - YA Fantasy (2020)
10. Postscript by Cecelia Ahern - Contemporary (2019)
11. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - Classic (1847)
12. In Five Years by Rebecca Searle- Contemporary Romance (2020)

    

13. Dev1at3 by Jay Kristoff - Science Fiction (2019)
14. House of Shadows by Darcy Coates - Horror (2020)
15. Good Boy by Jennifer Finney Boylan - Memoir (2020)
16. Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas - Gothic Mystery (2020)

  

17. The Goddess Twins by Yodassa Williams- YA Fantasy (2020)
18. The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant- YA Fantasy (2020)
19. The Glamourist by Luanne G. Smith - Fantasy (2020)
20 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - Dystopian (1932)

.

21. The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna - YA Fantasy (2021)
22. An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim - Dystopian (2018)

Keep an eye on the blog, my Goodreads, and my Instagram for updates and reviews on these books as I read through them in June. Are any of these on your TBR?

Friday, June 5, 2020

Book Review: The Will & the Wilds by Charlie N. Holmberg



The Will and the Wilds
Charlie N. Holmberg

YA Fantasy - 2020 (47North)
Paperback - 268 pages

Synopsis:

Enna and her father live at the edge of the wildwood, a place where the wild mystings roam. When danger erupts and she is at risk of being killed, Enna foolishly binds herself to Maekallus with the promise of help. As a result, Maekallus becomes bound to the mortal realm and starts fading from existence. The only thing that will save him is a kiss from Enna, a kiss that will also allow him to take a piece of her soul. Now Enna must discover a way to break the bond that ties them before they both stand to perish.



Thoughts:

I have loved everything I've read by Charlie N. Holmberg. There is something about her writing that just sucks me in. I find it fun and whimsical with creative and wonderful worlds and just the right amount of darkness. The Will and the Wilds was no different.

Enna's character was well written, though perhaps a bit older than I would have imagined her. However, she is appropriately daring and a brilliant combination of mature and naive given her circumstances. Her family's backstory is revealed just enough to give some good footing for the story while still leaving substantial room for mystery and maybe a little bit of reader confusion that keeps things a little up in the air.

The writing is done in dual POV, based on both Enna and Maekallus. At first, this was a little bit awkward, but it worked very well as the story started to gain traction. The majority of the tale is told from Enna's first person point of view, showing the reader her limitations, while the smaller piece of the narrative is a third person view of Maekallus, the mysting to whom Enna has unwittingly bound herself. This second perspective is very limited, but gives just enough information to create increased tension in the narrative, reveal some things that Enna is oblivious to, and serves to make the story just that much more interesting.

I loved this story very much, though I will admit that I would have loved for Enna's grandmother to have been a live. I wanted more of her knowledge of the mystings, as I found these pieces of the world incredibly fascinating. Holmberg's writing is just my style and I have yet to find a book of hers that I haven't loved. This was another weird and wonderful read.




Thursday, May 21, 2020

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain



Circling the Sun
Paula McLain

Historical Fiction - 2015 (Ballantine Books)
Audiobook (Hardcover - 366 pages)

Synopsis:

Set in between 1910 and 1940s, Circling the Sun is a historical fiction novel set in colonial Kenya. The story, based on true life, follows the independent Beryl Markham as she matures against the backdrop of the wild bush. After moving from England, Beryl's mother takes her younger brother, Dickie, and deserts the family. Beryl is raised by her father with the additional influence of the Kipsigis tribe sharing their estate. 

Beryl becomes very confident and determined, working to learn the trade of horse training in a social set that doesn't quite accept this type of ruggedness in a woman. She soon falls in with the Happy Valley set, a group of European settlers of similar age. The friendships she develops include those with Karen Blixen, also known as Tania, who wrote the memoir Out of Africa under the pseudonym of Isak Dinesen.


Thoughts:

I had read (and loved) McLain's The Paris Wife a few years ago as the result of another stellar recommendation from my friend, Patti. When it comes to historical fiction recommendations, she hasn't steered me wrong yet. Circling the Sun was available on audio from my library, so I figured I'd go ahead and give it a whirl...going in completely blind.

The prologue threw me off quite a bit, as it starts with Beryl flying an airplane and then the plot abruptly shifts back thirty years and lands the reader in Africa. That was a little disorienting and really had me questioning where things were going, but I tried to put it at the back of my mind and moved on just the same.

The start was definitely a slow burn. McLain writes very atmospheric descriptions, but things build quite slowly. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, capturing both the beauty and the danger of early 20th century Kenya incredibly well. There is a methodical inclusion of conflicts every couple of chapters, which helped to keep the pacing steady and made the story maintain interest. These instances were sometimes quite traumatic and intense events, but they still felt as if they rolled smoothly with the rest of the prose. There is something somewhat hypnotizing about the way the novel is crafted.

Beryl is a sympathetic character, despite her flaws. In fact, that's one of the things I liked a lot about this novel. All of the characters are unapologetically imperfect. Granted, they are based on real individuals and so have a tendency to be human regardless, but the way they are crafted just makes them so fantastic. There were things I definitely did not like about Beryl as a person, but I was still very interested and invested in her journey. 

The story celebrates Beryl's successes as well as wandering through her struggles and failures in her bid for independence, something quite difficult for a woman in her day and age. I was quite impressed with the story from start to finish and wouldn't mind learning more about the real Beryl Markham. In fact, Circling the Sun generated a strong interest in me to know more about this particular period of time and cast of characters. I plan to follow this read up with Beryl's autobiography as well as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa in the future.



Monday, May 11, 2020

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn


The Alice Network
Kate Quinn

Historical Fiction - 2017 (William Morrow)
Audiobook (Paperback - 503 pages)

Synopsis:

The Alice Network is a historical fiction novel working on a dual timeline with a coordinating dual narrative. 

1947. Charlie St. Clair. Charlie is the college-aged daughter of a wealthy American couple who has found herself unmarried and pregnant. Her mother absconds her to Europe, planning to rid her of her "little problem". Instead, Charlie escapes her mother's control and flees to London in an attempt to find her missing cousin, Rose, who went missing under French Nazi occupation during World War II. 

1915. Evelyn Gardiner is recruited as a spy for the English against the Germans. She is stationed in a small town in France, where she is given the code name Marguerite (little Daisy) and is trained by the "queen of spies" Lili, also known as Alice. Lili is the mastermind behind the real life Alice Network, a collection of spies working together to help bring down the German forces.

Charlie and Eve's timelines connect in 1947, when Charlie finds herself hoping that drunken and possibly unbalanced Eve can help her locate her missing cousin. 


Thoughts:

The Alice Network had been recommended to me quite a while ago by my friend, Patti, and I put it off much longer than I should have. I loved this book so much. The dual narrative and dual timelines weave together flawlessly and the characters are so incredibly distinct. I was completely wrapped up in the story and felt truly invested in nearly everything going on.

I enjoy historical fiction, but this was such a unique read for me. The war is present in the narrative, but it's more of an outside force. It's obvious and definitely plays a part in why the entire book actually exists, but the focus was SO ingrained in the characters that it was easy to let that fade somewhat into the background. It was an interesting blend, but it was a good thing. I think this serves to make the book more accessible for those who maybe want to try historical fiction, but shy away from "wartime" novels. There is a lot of historical content present, but it is beautifully combined with wonderfully imaginative storytelling.

The characters were amazing. Eve is a total badass and I adored her. She is so dynamic and such a factor of her experience and I loved every little bit of her. The inclusion of the stammer (taken from the author's husband's life experience) was a brilliant touch and made her even more unique and marvelous. The growth that is seen in Charlie is also great and I love that the female characters in the book are so incredibly strong.

The only flaw for me was I slight one. The ending wrapped up a little too quickly when compared to the rest of the book, but I still felt it was well done. Part of my disappointment in this construction was honestly due to the fact that I didn't want the book to end.

I can easily say that this is among my favorite historical fiction reads of all time. So much good writing and good story and just fantastic experience in these pages! I will be picking up more of Kate Quinn's work in the near future...I particularly have my eye on her novel, The Huntress.



Wednesday, April 22, 2020

2019 Book of the Year: The Winner!


I've learned that this quarantine life has sucked some of the creativity out of me. I'm fine to watch and listen and read, but writing myself just hasn't been working well for me. I have still been doing my book reviews on Goodreads, Litsy, Amazon, & Barnes and Noble, but I just haven't been able to motivate myself to write anything more on the blog.

Part of that I think has just been feeling overwhelmed by the amount of writing that comes with the Book of the Year posts. So...I've given myself a bit of leeway here. It's time to finally wrap up this holdover from last year. Instead of continuing to go round by round, I'm simply going to finish up the endeavor in one post and free myself of the pressure so that I can move on to praising books read this year.

Ready? Let's find ourselves a winner!



I last left off with the Sweet Sixteen. Some great books have been eliminated, but there are still some amazing reads left. And some hard choices were made. I spent a lot time discussing the merits of each of the remaining challengers in the last post, so I'm going to speed through the next two rounds a bit. I'll go back to a bit more in-depth analysis of the matchups when it's down to four challengers.


Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery vs. Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Winner: Scythe by Neal Shusterman



Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver vs. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Morris

Winner: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver



Dumplin' by Julie Murphy vs. Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kauffman

Winner: Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kauffman



The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison vs. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Winner: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison



100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons vs. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Winner: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White



Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah vs. Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

Winner: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah



The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert vs. The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert



An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green vs. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Winner: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green



Okay...moving on. We're down to eight competitors. Let's get it down one more round and then we'll have some discussion over the final faceoffs.



Scythe by Neal Shusterman vs. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Winner: Scythe by Neal Shusterman




Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff vs. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Winner: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison



Charlotte's Web by E.B. White vs. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Winner: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White



The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert vs. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Winner: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert


Phew! Can you believe it?! We started with 116 books and now it's down to FOUR! The creme de la creme everyone!!



I have to admit, all of these picks are fabulous. Four 5-star reads and all magnificent. Two dystopian sci-fi reads, one fantasy, and one classic. One adult book, two YA reads, and a middle grade. Not a bad little spread and probably fairly representative of my reading for the year. I took a hard sway to the fantasy and sci-fi genres in 2019 with a few historical fiction and contemporary reads sprinkled in. Middle grades made a huge surge thanks to my participation in November's Believathon, hosted by Gavin over at How to Train Your Gavin. (Side note: I'll be participating in his mini-readathon for middle grades in May.) I expected one of these books to definitely make it to the finals and had high inklings for two others. I will admit that Charlotte's Web was a bit of a surprise. I loved it, but really didn't even think to consider it for a contender.

Shall we proceed? I know who the winner is and I'm itching to share!!

Left Bracket Finalists


Scythe by Neal Shusterman vs. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

And so it comes to this...the two dystopians are facing off against one another. Such different books, but both so good in their own way. Both books are written by authors I'd never read before and now both of them have books on my TBR for this year. Both of those books are continuations of the trilogies represented by these two first series books. So coincidental.

Scythe was a book I was exposed to from social media. My reading of it was the direct result of hype. And thank goodness the hype was justified this time! I love dystopian reads, but this one is something of its own spin...a dystopian utopia if you will. Death has been conquered and so the only means of controlling the population is through the use of scythes, workers who are tasked with "gleaning" individuals whose lives have been selected to end. It's creepy and unique and so well-written. I'm told that the sequel, Thunderhead, is even better, so I'm super excited to read it later this year.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison was one of those books I just stumbled upon. It was one of the Prime Reading offerings through Amazon when I was first beginning to read audiobooks and it. was. magnificent. I loved its creepy darkness and I enjoyed that the narrative took the protagonist through areas where I've lived. There was something extra fascinating about that, though I don't know why...just another way to connect with the story I suppose. The protagonist herself is one of my favorites ever. She's a modern warrior and I honestly feel pieces of Jane Eyre in her (which some may find a weird comparison, but I DON'T CARE). I have purchased the entire trilogy since finishing this book and I am both excited and scared to continue on with the series. It's one of those things where you love the first book so much that you don't want the continuation to detract anything from that. Regardless, I WILL be picking it up and I'm super giddy about how much I loved this book.

It should have been a super difficult decision to pick a winner here, but one of these books just gut punched me super hard in a way that will stick with me for a very long time. It was all partially in the ways I could identify with it.


Winner: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison


Right Bracket Finalists


Pairing books that are so different from one another is always I think the biggest challenge for selecting a winner in this endeavor. These two come from two very different genres and are primarily intended for very different audiences. They're both fantastic in their own right and stand very solidly as 5-star reads. But...you all know the drill...only one can move on.

Charlotte's Web was technically a reread. This would ordinarily disqualify it for a slot in this challenge, but since the last time I read it was literally decades ago (I'm getting to freaking old), I let it pass. Reading it as an adult is a very different experience than reading it as a youth. It's a whole different perspective. I listened to the audio of this read by the author and that added a whole new level of endearing to the tale. It's also more impactful on me as an adult since we raise pigs for a living here on the farm. I could understand Fern's attachment to little Wilbur as I raised Pippa, a runt piglet of my own. I found the tale to be incredibly heartwarming as well as heartbreaking. I just love it so very much. It will definitely be one of the first chapter books I read with the boys.

Adorable Pippa at 2 days old back in 2016. How cute is she?!?!
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert also happened to be an audiobook experience. Such an odd thing to have audiobooks make such a big showing in the final stages of the bracket when I just started reading them in that format last year. This one is a bit of a fairy tale fantasy based on a premise starring a book within a book. I love that type of premise and I love fairy tale retellings or fairy tale based stories. Especially the dark ones...which this certainly is. The writing was magical and intriguing and...like the cliche line I hate to read in books...there were several times I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding while reading it. 😉 When I finished my read, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a sequel being released (it was published this January) and I am still chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. I enjoy a good standalone, but there are some worlds where I just HAVE to have more. This is one of those cases.

I don't really know what to say about how I chose a winner here. Both were great reads and both are sticking with me in their own ways. I honestly think that for this choice I had to go with a gut reaction. Sometimes that's just how it is.


Winner: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert




And now we've come to the meat, my friends. It is time to crown a champion for my reads of 2019. Though these books were both great ones and I have both of them in my permanent collection, this was not a difficult choice when it came down to it.


The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison vs. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

As already mentioned, both are fabulous reads, both had me gripped, and I found both to be both fantastically written and highly creative. I would happily reread either one of them right now and probably will reread them several times over the up coming years. But, there was a clear winner in my mind as soon as I saw the pairing come up in the bracket.

The question that I think decided this winner was "which book am I more likely to recommend to others?". While both would easily be ones I would offer up to other readers as good choices, there was one that clearly outshone the other in this department. I could talk about this book for a LONG time and I find that other readers who have enjoyed it as much as me tend to be my reading soulmates. That's the sign of a good beacon book.

So...what book would I recommend? Out of 116 reads in 2019, which book would I deem the One to Rule Them All? Which book can I praise over and over again with genuine love in my heart?

Behold...the winner of the 2019 Book of the Year...



The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison takes the prize! If you haven't looked into this one yet, please do soon! If you enjoy dystopian reads of any kind, this one will be great for you. It's also highly feminist, very modern, quick paced, has fantastic descriptions, and just hit me hard in the gut. It is a well deserved win. Now...GO READ IT!

It was a looooooong journey to get here and I hope you found a few good books along the way. If you missed out on the whole selection of reads, you can begin the challenge here and see what other books made 5-star ratings, but didn't necessarily make it as far in the competition as they were entitled. Such is the case when you use the devil that is the randomized bracket.

I'm very pleased with the results. The Book Bracket Challenge has yielded another wonderful winner. I'll be repeating this challenge with my 2020 reads in January of next year. I already have some fantastic contenders completed and I'm excited to find more.

Until next time...HAPPY READING EVERYONE!!!


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