Wings of Wrath, by C. S. Friedman: A Review

I chose to read Wings of Wrath, by C. S. Friedman for the 2018 Reading Challenge #22, a book with alliteration in the title. When I set about choosing the books I would read this year, my first goal was to find books from my already overflowing shelves. Secondly, I wanted to read more women authors. This book was the only one on my shelves that met the criteria. Of course, it is the second book in a trilogy, so naturally, I had to read the first one too.

I loved the first book, The Feast of Souls. The characters are fabulously flawed and terrible. I wanted to read about them even when I didn’t really like them all that well. Furthermore, there was a deep sense of urgency about the first book that was very compelling. The second one, however, lacked this same urgency, and I didn’t have the same love for the characters. Still, it’s a good book, and it moves the overall story forward. I enjoyed it, and I look forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy.

Wings of Wrath continues where the first book leaves off, deepening the sense of impending doom. The magic Friedman has conjured in this series is sort of terrifying. In one sense, as I began reading, I wanted to hate these books. The world is brutal and cruel. But at the same time, it is so beautifully rendered, I couldn’t hate it.

As for whether or not I would recommend this book, I would say yes, but with caution. This is no lighthearted, feel good fantasy. It is dark and terrible. But the writing is flawless.

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, October 2018: The TBR

Back in April I participated in my first Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. While I read a lot, I didn’t manage to read as much as I’d hoped. I made big plans for myself and created quite an ambitious reading list. Too ambitious, as it turned out. I’d expected as much, but it was my first readathon, and I wanted to be prepared.

I signed up to participate in the next Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon which takes place on October 20 (today!). In my time zone, it begins at 5:00 a.m. (Yikes!)

As I said, my reading list last time was far too ambitious. I knew it would be, but I had no idea what to expect of myself, or what it would be like focusing on reading for twenty-four hours straight. I learned a few things from the experience, and this time I intend to do it a little different.

This time, I’m just going to plan to read whatever I’m already reading. I’ll have a book in each format – a print book for my main focus, an ebook for while I’m out and about and an audio book queued up for when my eyes get tired. Then, just in case I finish whatever it is I’m currently reading in any given format, I’ll have a back up ready to go. Finally, because on a day devoted to reading, I should be able to track all the reading I do, I’ll also have the books I’m currently reading aloud with my sons.

My list therefore, looks like this:

Current print books:
G
one With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell (102 of 1024)
Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb (180 of 757)
back up: Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb or Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Current ebook:
Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings (31% complete)
back up: On Two Feet and Wings, by Abbas Kazerooni

Current audiobook:
Dune, by Frank Herbert (12 hrs 12 min remaining)

Currently reading with my sons:
The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis (71 of 211)
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (142 of 368)
The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo (14 of 128)
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini (111 of 497)

It still looks like an overly ambitious list, but I’m not holding to any illusions that I’ll accomplish nearly so much. I’ll be reading around football and soccer games, necessary household chores and hanging out with my sons. Maybe we’ll see how many of their picture books we can read in an hour!

To make the readathon more comfortable, I’ve staked out my reading corner with a cozy blanket, a candle for atmosphere and a reading companion. Along with my books and a cup of coffee, I’m all set!

CozyReadathon

Are you taking part in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon? What are you planning to read?

Annals of the Western Shore Trilogy, by Ursula K. LeGuin: A Review

I chose to read Voices, book two of the trilogy, Annals of the Western Shore, by Ursula K. LeGuin, for #39 on the 2018 Reading Challenge, a book that involves a bookstore or library. I had this book on my shelf already, a random purchase from a random used book source. Based on the description it involves a library. It is, however, the second book of the series so I had to read the first one before I could read Voices. In the end, I decided to read the entire series, and I’m glad I did.

All three of these books – Gifts, Voices, Powers – are written as a first person recollection. It is three individuals telling their own story. LeGuin is a master storyteller, and each book is beautifully written. These books are interrelated, but not all one story. They could each be read as stand alone novels and not lose anything.

Gifts tells the story of Orrec, a young man from the Uplands, a rural society divided into fiefs. Each fief is governed by a family that has an inherited “gift” of one sort or another. These gifts define the families and set them apart as rivals. Orrec is the son of one such gifted individual and the book takes him on a journey of self-discovery that ultimately leads him away from his own people.

Voices is the story of Memer Galva, a “siege brat” who has grown up in a home with a secret, hidden library. Her city of Ansul was overthrown by an invading army seventeen years before the story opens. The conquerors have set about destroying the written word, seeking a source of power they believe to be demonic. Memer’s story is also one of self-discovery as she must come to grips with her own place in her city and in its struggle for freedom.

Powers tells of a boy, Gavir, a slave raised and educated for the purpose of teaching members of his master’s household. When he is betrayed by the very people with whom he placed his trust, Gavir goes off on his own journey of self-discovery. Ultimately, Gavir returns to the people from whom he was stolen away as a babe, only to find he doesn’t belong there either.

These books are full of beautiful description and a wonderful sense of place. They are not high on action, however, so they do at times feel a little slow. LeGuin’s characters are compelling and interesting, and I enjoyed reading their stories. The third book, Powers, received the 2008 Nebula Award for Best Novel. Overall this series is great and well worth the read. Personally, Voices was my favorite of the three, but they are all good.

Grace and Fury, by Tracy Banghart: A Review

#47 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list is to read a book by an author with the same first or last name as myself. I had a hard time with this prompt, not really finding a book that appealed to me that met the requirements. It seems that a lot of Tracys write romance novels. Now, I like a good romance novel now and then, but it just isn’t what appealed to me right now.

So when I stumbled across Tracy Banghart’s Grace and Fury, I jumped on it. This book moves fast, driven forward with action and suspense. While there may not be a lot of depth to this story, it is really fun. I loved this book.

This is the story of Serina and Nomi, sisters who are as different as sisters can be. In their world, women have no rights. They aren’t allowed to read among other things, and the slightest offense can have the direst of consequences. Serina, the eldest, has been groomed her entire life to become a Grace, someone to stand by the Heir’s side as an example of the perfect woman. Instead, it is her spitfire younger sister, Nomi who catches the Heir’s attention.

Now both sisters are caught in a role they are completely unprepared for. With time running out for both of them and a dangerous plot afoot within the palace, the sisters must take matters into their own hands to save the other.

I like how Banghart has created characters who make real decisions. Poor decisions in many cases, but they aren’t exempted from the often disastrous consequences of their choices. They are forced to acknowledge their faults, learn from them and move on.

There are some romantic elements to this story, though even in this, things don’t go as expected. Ultimately, this story is about the relationship between two sisters and their willingness to fight for each other when everything is stacked against them.

If you’re looking for a light, fun read, this is a good choice. My biggest complaint is the long wait for the sequel!

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood: A Review

A book that is also a musical or play is #13 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list. I already planned to read The Handmaid’s Tale, and decided to use it for this prompt. This was one of several books I was determined to read this year, so I fit it in wherever I could. This book has been adapted for stage, and more recently for television.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, is a speculative fiction tale about a dystopian future where an extreme theocracy has taken over the United States. In this repressive regime, women belong to one of three classes – Wives, Marthas and Handmaids. Wives are allotted to the Commanders in what appears to be a war heroes reward sort of system. Marthas are servants – housekeepers, cooks and the like. And Handmaids are those who’ve been deemed fertile, and are assigned to Commanders for the sole purpose of producing progeny for the Commanders and their Wives.

Told through the voice of Offred (Of-Fred), a Handmaid, this is a chilling picture of what humans are capable of doing to each other. Written as a recollection sometime after the events of the novel take place, the narrative is somewhat rambling. It shifts and wanders as memories often do. Certain colors and images stand out as Offred simultaneously recalls her life as a Handmaid and her life before. Here is one of my favorite images:

Then we had the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash, light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple, black cat’s ears in the sun, indigo shadow, and the bleeding hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out.

Margaret Atwood uses beautiful and often surprising language as she tells her story. I was captivated by this book, though not at first. In the beginning, the writing feels dull somehow. Not dull as in boring, but rather as if all the edges had been worn off. It felt blunted. But as I read on, I could feel everything being stripped away, much as it must have happened for Offred. And through this, I realized that the dullness was intentional. It builds the sense of fear and paranoia that is rampant in Offred’s reality.

I enjoyed this book and feel it is one worth reading. I have to say, however, I don’t really like the way it ends. The ending comes a bit abruptly, and I am left feeling vaguely unsettled with many questions unanswered. But then again, perhaps this too was intentional.

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath: A Review

I chose to read The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath for a book about mental health, #16 on the 2018 Reading Challenge. I came across Sylvia Plath when I began researching notable women authors. I’d heard her name before, but never read any of her work. I found this book on a list of novels about mental health. The premise intrigued me, so it joined my list.

The Bell Jar tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a talented young college student on scholarship in an honors English program. As the novel opens, she’s participating in an internship program with eleven other young ladies. The story follows Esther’s descent into depression and madness.

Written from the first person perspective, this novel takes the reader along on a deeply personal journey. Esther struggles to define herself and her place in the world. When things begin to fall apart at the end of her internship and she isn’t accepted into the summer writing program she was counting on, Esther falls into a spiral of depression, suicidal thoughts and ultimately attempts to take her own life.

In this book, Plath not only took on the debilitating aspects of depression and mental illness, she also tackled issues facing many young women who struggle with their identity as a person and as a woman. There is a certain social weight that comes along with womanhood – the looming responsibility of parenthood that cannot be fully separated from the act of sex. Esther wrestles with this issue as she deals with the question of dating and marriage, a near rape and the idea of what sex should mean to her. Though this isn’t the central issue of the story, it contributes to Esther’s decline.

This is a well-written, compelling story. Written in 1962, this novel wasn’t published in the US until 1971, several years after Plath’s death by suicide. This novel has an autobiographical feel to it, especially in light of what transpired in Plath’s life and death.

While this book didn’t completely wow me, I did enjoy it. It made me think about how we all experience life from the limited perspective of our own minds. We’re locked up in our own heads, and nothing makes sense except within the framework of our flawed understanding.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler: A Review

When I set out to choose the books I would read for the 2018 Reading Challenge, I struggled to find just one book for some of the categories. I wanted to focus first on what I already had on my shelves but I also wanted to expand my reading experience. One category I particularly struggled with to choose just one book is a book by an author of a different ethnicity than myself.

So, although I’ve already filled this prompt with another book, there was no way I could not read Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler this year. I already had the book on my shelves, after all. Butler is on all the must read sci-fi author lists. This was my opportunity to finally make that happen.

Written in a sort of journal entry fashion, Lauren Olamina tells her story of survival in a future America ravaged by the effects of global warming, severe drought and government corruption. The world teeters on the edge of anarchy. More and more people are unemployed and uneducated. Clean drinking water is expensive and hard to come by. Police and firefighters only come when they’ll get paid for their services.

As unrest grows, it presses more and more into Lauren’s world, ultimately forcing her out of her home – one of the last, semi-safe walled communities outside Los Angeles. She flees north along with a handful of others seeking a better, safer way to live.

Butler’s writing is intelligent and powerful. This book is so deep and intense, so full of radical ideas, a single read through might not be enough. The story itself is so terrifyingly real, it’s easy to get caught up in the motion and miss some of the important ideas Butler is trying to convey. I know I found myself caught up in this book.

There are probably many quotable passages in this book, but one that stuck out for me was this one where Lauren is having a conversation with her friend and neighbor, Jo about what she would do if she found herself outside the walls of their neighborhood.

I realize I don’t know very much. None of us knows very much. But we can all learn more. Then we can teach one another. We can stop denying reality or hoping it will go away by magic.

Despite the difficult subject matter, I enjoyed this book immensely. I look forward to reading more by Octavia Butler, and quite likely re-reading this book at some point. I highly recommend this book.

Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts: A Review

Prompt #32 of the 2018 Reading Challenge directed me to choose a book from a celebrity book club. My first thought was Oprah’s book list. I think I would have looked to see what other options existed except for one thing: Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts was already on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

This is the story of Novalee Nation, a seventeen-year old girl, seven months pregnant who is plagued by unlucky sevens. The story begins when Novalee is abandoned by her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens, while on their way from Tennesee to California. She ends up living in the WalMart in Sequoyah, OK. Letts takes the reader along on Novalee’s journey to “where the heart is.” It’s a sweet and emotional story, and along the way we get to meet the various people that help Novalee on this journey.

The book is primarily written from Novalee’s point of view, but occasionally, Letts drops in on some of the other characters. I have to admit, I didn’t really want to follow along with Willy Jack’s story. After the first bit from his perspective following his abandonment of Novalee, I felt like he’d gotten what was coming to him, and I really didn’t care about him any more. I just wanted to know what happened to Novalee.

In the end, Letts brings the story back together in a very satisfying conclusion. I felt like this book was well written. Letts does a fantastic job of showing the characters’ emotions through tiny details. To get the most out of this book, you’ll need to read between the lines. Because that’s where Letts has written the heart of the story – in the things she’s left unsaid.

I have no idea how this book ended up on my bookshelves. It’s not at all the kind of book I would have picked up for myself. I’m glad I read it, however. It’s the kind of story that restores your faith in humanity.

Summer Reading Hiatus – Veering Off Course With Amazing Book Discoveries

I have been working my way through my 2018 Reading Challenge, and was doing well enough to be a few books ahead of schedule. Since summer began, however, I have slipped into reading anything but what’s on my list.

There are a number of reasons for this. One, it’s summer, I should be able to read whatever I want and not be locked into a rigid list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still excited about the remaining books on my list, but I chose these books months ago. Summer is the time for adventure and discovery, and reading should be a part of that. I’ve found some great books I may have missed out on by sticking to my list.

A second reason is that I’ve allowed myself to get distracted with a few book series. It started when I read The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh, from my challenge list. I wanted to pick up the next book of the series immediately, but couldn’t get my hands on a copy right away. This led me to pick up a book at the library that I’ve wanted to read for some time – Something Strange and Deadly, by Susan Dennard. When that wasn’t immediately available, I picked up something else – The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater. So now I find myself embroiled in three different series that were not on my reading challenge list.

One other reason I’ve veered off course is that I’ve joined a group on Goodreads that selects one fantasy book and one science fiction book each month to read and discuss together. They also occasionally have a series read. They’ve recently started Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series and I decided to join in. I’ve wanted to read Robin Hobb’s books for a long time, so I couldn’t resist jumping on board with this. I’ve only read the first one so far, and I’m not sorry I picked this up.

I can’t be unhappy about my reading distractions. They have all been really fun discoveries. But as we wind back down into Fall, it is time to return to the challenge list and complete what I’ve already set out to complete. Besides, a list full of names like Ursula LeGuin, Tanya Huff, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, Amy Tan, Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Atwood, I think I’ve got some great adventures still ahead of me.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger: A Review

For the 2018 Reading Challenge prompt #23, a book about time travel, I chose to read The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I had this book on my shelves already, so it wasn’t a difficult choice for this prompt.

The concept behind this story is fascinating and original. Niffenegger has conceived of the idea of time travel as a genetic disorder. Henry can’t control his travels through time. This story tracks his love affair with Clare, who moves through time normally.

The narrative goes back and forth through time, telling the story of Henry and Clare in episodes from their childhoods on up through adulthood. Along the way, Niffenegger reveals bits about each of the characters, building up to a conclusion that feels inevitable.

The Time Traveler’s Wife has a complex plot, that in the wrong hands could have easily become convoluted and confusing. Niffenegger has masterfully moved a story forward in which time doesn’t behave the way it’s supposed to. And she’s done it in such a way that the storyline has a natural progression.

It isn’t without faults. There are places where the story drags a little, and elements I’m not convinced were completely necessary. Still, overall, this is an excellent book, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in quirky love stories.