Sunday, October 30, 2016

First Frost (Waverley Family, #2)First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen 2015 St. Martin's Press 320 p
(Available in audio and hardcover at the library, and out in paperback, too.)

First Frost is a tender, delicious novel perfect for fall. It's a sequel to Sarah's first book, Garden Spells, but stands fully on its own. Claire Waverly started a retail candy business with her magical lozenges; it's a huge success, but is it really rewarding? Claire's niece Bay is fifteen and weaving her own way through the Waverly magic and mystique. The Waverly women always grow unruly before their apple tree blossoms in the fall, topsy-turvy to the rest of the world...and then, a stranger comes to town, with sinister intent.
The author is in full flower here, just like the Waverly's cranky apple tree. With the lushness of summer, the ripeness of fall, the coziness and crispness of winter, and the promise of spring, Allen's story is a Thanksgiving feast for all seasons, rich with flavor and sensation. It's rare to find a perfect book, where the promise and the practice match with no false notes. Is it the greatest novel ever? No. But it is a perfect example of magical realism: better than life, with just enough ballast to give you the vision to see how you might get some of that magic into your own. Better than life: life-affirming. Allen's gentle humor and flavorful prose are a recipe for delight.
Give yourself a wish-fulfilling pleasant few hours in a world where dreams come true, true love lasts, and happy ever after is real—after a few bumps and bruises, of course—and settle down with a pumpkin latte, a slice of fig-and-pepper bread (recipe included in the book) and First Frost.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Spells of Blood and KinSpells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lovely urban fantasy. Balanced and nuanced. Just the right amount of darkness and light, violence and love, awkwardness and grace. Be aware there is a lot of punching. Lissa's grandmother, who has been training Lissa to follow in her footsteps and become the local Russian immigrant community's shaman-in-residence, dies without ever telling her about Maksim. Is Maksim a berserker, a werewolf, a vampire, or none of these but the basis for the stories? We get to make up our own minds what to call him, but he is a creature of violence and death and the spell that Lissa's grandmother made to leash his darkness has disappeared with her death. A story that appeals to outsiders, outliers, and oddities. Some Russian magic. Diversities of culture, temperament, sexuality. Sentences that flow without falling flat. Good storytelling, good writing, worth buying. Publish more, please, and shoot this on over to a genre imprint for the paperback, where the Canadian setting is just another alien background and the humor and intelligent prose are expected delights. This writer deserves an appreciative audience!

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The New Food, Explained?

Cooked: A Natural History of TransformationCooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You will definitely enjoy Michael Pollan’s “Cooked” if you have enjoyed his other books. You will also enjoy it if you are a fan of modern nonfiction style with its sweeping statements and assumed expertise. Not to fault Pollan’s research, for he consults the experts and does his own experiments, and he writes well. I refer to certain things like his assertion that modern people “are not watching shows or reading books about sewing or darning socks or changing the oil in our cars…” (page 3) in order to justify his theory. This is a mark of laziness of thought and ignorance not only on Pollan’s part but on the part of those who let the statement pass without challenge, for not only are there countless books and blogs on those subjects, there are television channels and YouTube videos up the wazoo on these subjects and many others. People are interested in everything. But once you get past this authorial attitude, you go on an interesting journey of food, biology, and culture. Pollan takes on his journey of discovery that cooking and eating together as a family draws us into community not only with one another but with the entire web of life on the planet, as if he were the first to freshly discover this alchemy. Beautifully written, but a bit white male privilege arrogant at times. Worth reading (or watching on Netflix, there’s a documentary).

View all my reviews

Friday, May 6, 2016

Postmodern Hyperlit?

Genius: The GameGenius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Save your money for the paperback, if you are still interested. I bought 3 copies of this for me and two of my nieces. It's great storytelling, very much like a movie, where you forgive huge continuity errors because the premise is intriguing, the characters likable. It's very much a B movie though. My frustration is because it is not billed as the beginning of a series--and I would be hugely upset with a movie where it ends on a cliffhanger with nothing resolved, too. One does find out the winner of the Game, but none of the emotional hooks and dilemmas that made us care about the story are resolved. It gets 3 stars because despite this and to my shame, I would read a sequel if one gets published. But I hope it doesn't, because this cavalier treatment of readers should not be encouraged.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Be a Bookie: Read

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison LibrarianRunning the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In retrospect, it’s perhaps not so strange that a book by a prison librarian contains violence, references to drugs and sex, and lots of bad language. Never fear, there’s good language, too—enough so I liked the book in spite of myself.

Avi Steinberg: young (20-30 something), privileged in spite of his outsider status as a Hasidic Jew; intellectual Harvard graduate; freelance obituary writer for the Boston Globe. He applies for the job of prison librarian, already wise to the desirability of a steady government job with benefits. He gets it, and sticks it out for two years. This is, of course, a dream scenario for any would-be writer. Danger in the dirty underbelly of society, almost as much street cred as going to war: one can feel this type of distance and excitement as Avi starts his story and his job. Avi is a sensitive guy, though, and he cares. Avi’s heart is the thing that gets him accepted into this prison culture of sheriff vs. prisoner, staff vs. inmate, poverty vs. privilege; it’s the thing that will ensure his eventual departure, as well.

It’s not only about the volumes on the shelves and what their authors wrote. The library is a place where love letters are left and found, literature of the desperate.
“Look for me. Love me, even if we can’t touch. I’m the third window from the top on the left.” Prison is a place of broken hearts and failed dreams and hope is precious and rare. The book is worth the read.

View all my reviews

My Grandmother Asked Me to tell You to Read This Book

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was true after his first book, A Man Called Ove, that I would read everything this man ever writes. Or give it a shot, anyway. After this, I can't imagine ever not reading, not finishing. Contemporary fiction is hard for me, as dark and dreary as most of what's published is. I already know about the worst of humanity, I like reading about regular people living their values (ok, there are some vampire hunters in the mix, but you know what I mean). Every character, spot-on. Every story charming, wise, humorous as Nick Hornby, tender as McCall Smith's Botswana. Laughing and crying throughout the same book is wondrous and rare--but true to real life, whatever that may be.

Elsa is not Pippi Longstocking, but she could be. Through her eyes we see death and divorce, change and mystery, love and community. I actually have met some elderly, cranky European women, so I had a face and a feel for Elsa's grandmother from the get-go. This controlling, loving woman has left some letters for young Elsa to deliver after the funeral. Aware that her death will create cracks and faultlines in her community, Grandmother has made an opportunity for those who grieve her to patch over the faultlines and build anew.

If you like a heartwarming story and don't mind some "cussing," you have found an author to treasure and share. Go, buy, make sure he keeps getting published!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Goddess is Alive and Magic is Afoot

The Immortals (Olympus Bound #1)The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jordanna Max Brodsky has written a smart, satisfying tale in the "old gods still survive to modern days" trope, and became my favorite debut author of 2015 (advance copy, thanks Orbit!!). Many of us have indeed worshipped Artemis, Shining One, archer and leader of the Muses, and it's usually Athena and Aphrodite getting all the attention. The Immortals satisfies as a thriller, as an urban fantasy, and as a darn good read. This means the language is engaging, the history and the magic theory hold up, and the characters are believable.
Selene DiSilva protects the innocent on the mean streets of Manhattan as she slowly fades into whatever gods become as they wane. Of course she specializes in helping abused women. But one night, she receives an infusion of strength and purpose: a believer's prayer. Unfortunately, it was a prayer made by a woman dying by violence and betrayal. On her search for the woman's killer, Selene will face both death and life returning and find love greater than she's ever known. Just the right amount of action, humor, and theoretical pontificating (yes, one of those villians!). Love the chapter titles, mostly names of the Goddess. The book highlights some of New York's famous hidden places, too.
For me, the book succeeds on all levels, and I'm so glad to look forward to another book!
(I received an ARC of the book from Orbit for review.)

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Away with the fairies...

Dear readers, Miss Em is somewhat distraught that her silence has lasted so long…it's all down to the tagline, I'm afraid. Life was better than books. Certainly more compelling. But amongst the re-reads, there were some gems. Miss Em only read the gems, and will be reporting shortly, as she draws closer to the planet. In the meantime, lots of love in the air & dancing and singing went on amidst the tears. Here's a sample playlist:

My Type-Saint Motel
Shut Up and Dance With Me- Walk the Moon
Come With Me Now-Kongas
Trust You-Rob Thomas
Chains-Nick Jonas
Love Runs Out-OneRepublic
Believe-Mumford & Sons
Take Me to Church-Hozier
Nothing Without Love-Nate Ruess
Live Forever-Band Perry
On Top of the World-Imagine Dragons
Best Day of My Life-American Authors
I Am- AWOL Nation
Someone New- Hozier
Hallelujah-Panic at the Disco
Heart is a Drum-Beck

And add for fun: Exes and Ohs, Water Under the Bridge, Blank Space…

The high is worth the pain, BTW. Have fun, children. Dare to love. The stranger the better… :)