September Book Choices

Here are my choices for the month. I tried to think of books that might suit September, with a little bit of history, a little bit of creepy, as well as magic. And of course, school.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam–a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion–a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night…

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Illusive by Emily Llyod-Jones

When the MK virus swept across the planet, a vaccine was created to stop the epidemic, but it came with some unexpected side effects. A small percentage of the population developed superhero-like powers, and Americans suffering from these so-called adverse effects were given an ultimatum: Serve the country or be declared a traitor.

Some people chose a third option: live a life of crime.

Seventeen-year-old Ciere Giba has the handy ability to change her appearance at will. She’s what’s known as an illusionist. She’s also a thief. After crossing a gang of mobsters, Ciere must team up with a group of fellow superpowered criminals on a job that most would have considered impossible: a hunt for the formula that gave them their abilities. It was supposedly destroyed years ago – but what if it wasn’t?

Government agents are hot on their trail, and the lines between good and bad, us and them, and freedom and entrapment are blurred as Ciere and the rest of her crew become embroiled in a deadly race that could cost them their lives.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…

Poll: https://goo.gl/forms/BgS0Oypm7DqZ5wu32

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August Book Review

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And we’re back on schedule ladies!

I have read Georgette Heyer before and honestly I put this in the list as I have wanted to get around to reading it. I’ve had the book on my shelf and it’s been staring at me pretty accusingly until I put it up for August.

Overall, I love me some regency books. I found Frederica witty and fun. Poor Charis was a grade A dunce and pained me physically when her and Harry went behind Frederica’s back. There’s a lot to say of a woman’s power on her own life and Frederica showed how women were so dependent on men during this time period.

Though Charis was a stupid girl most of the time, there were parts of when Frederica and the Marquis were talking about her that made it seem like she wasn’t as stupid as she behaved. How she fell in love so easily and couldn’t turn any man down, it seemed almost like a satire on Jane from Pride and Prejudice. Ah but that could be just me reading into things.

I did like the Marquis and Frederica together, true the engagement was rushed, but their banter and how they relied on each other was super sweet. I like how Georgette didn’t write love as this whole all or nothing feeling, how Frederica fell in love but it wasn’t all thunderstorms and grand romantic gestures. It felt more realistic and an almost adult kind of love.

As for the boys, I loved me some Felix and Jessamy. They were adorable, though rambling boys, that made me think of what my nephew could be. I couldn’t always read through everything they were rambling so I felt a lot like the Marquis sometimes, just tuning out.

Harry was another thing, and I half despised him by the end. He was the worst kind of guy I could think of, selfish and out to please himself. Inconveniencing Frederica at the worst of times because she wasn’t stroking his ego. Man if I could, I would have punched him in the throat.

What a spoiled brat.

Anyway, loved the novel and definitely recommend it.

Sugar Out!

 

LateLateLate Reviews for May to August really (or Summer 2017 Reviews)

Oops? Summer is about to leave, I changed job locations, and apparently am behind in my reviews, having bits and pieces of my thoughts written and noted down everywhere but on this blog of course. I did finish August’s choice, Frederica, on time, but am still only half way through Hild. So:

Frederica:

After realizing my library didn’t have a paper copy, but an audio book copy of Frederica, I decided to take the challenge; I have not listened to an audio book in many years. Listening to an audio book is somewhat different, I found. First I struggled with the narrator’s voice, which while pleasant in general and fit with the main character Alverstoke, but made me cringe whenever he read women’s dialogue. Besides that, when I don’t have something to occupy my eyes, my mind tends to wander at some point. I found myself listening while doing the dishes or when i was setting up my desktop at work. I will have to get a written copy of the book to reread it, to pick up some details I missed.

I enjoyed Frederica; the story was relatively simple and the plot felt formulaic. This is not a complaint since formulaic plots don’t usually bother me; they feel relaxing and pleasing when everything turns out more or less as you did expect. The characters were fun, and for the most part lighthearted. I felt generally sorry for Charis, especially when I remembered she would have been 16-17, considering a majority of the characters, including her sister, call her things like a “beautiful ninny-pole”. Jeez sis. I also couldn’t help but wonder how Charis might fare today, as just another regular teenager.

The main pairing, well, I couldn’t quite see it. There didn’t seem to be much real passion, and his feelings of love felt sudden and without grounds. I was unconvinced. Perhaps I haven’t read much regency romance, or just Georgette Heyer, but I found some of the declarations of love over the top and silly.

Things No One will tell Fat Girls:

Well. In a way, I don’t relate very strongly to this book. I’m not a fat girl. And I never really thought of myself as such. When I was a bit younger, I was self conscious about my stomach or my legs to a degree, but I’ve mostly overcome that, long before reading this book. I certainly have not, and do not, always like my body, but really I’m pretty okay with it. When it comes down to it, I struggle with self consciousness, shame, etc but it usually does not relate to my physical self. I hope that my tone does not come off as bragging or righteous or something, just that this book is a book that is addressed to the reader. I am the reader, but I think I am not the intended audience, I do not particularly need the message in this book. That’s it. I would point out that reading a book that you can not relate to can be good, can widen your view of the world, that’s true. Reading a book about a girl, say, that grew up in China or Brazil is not something I can relate to, but can still enjoy. But a book like that would not generally be addressed to me, the reader. Still, I liked this book, it did make me consider that I should follow more body positive social media, and consider my own thoughts. I was impressed by her using guest essays to fill the holes that she could not, addressing gender and race.

As an personal amusing aside, I suppose, part of me reacted a little when I saw the author write “many scholars”, as that sort of phrase would always end up circled in red pen with the words “WHICH SCHOLARS?” scribbled next to it on my university papers. On the other hand, the author did have a nice little reference section at the back of the book.

The Improbability of Love:

I am generally speaking not a fan of a lot of description, although there are always exceptions. This book was not an exception, I’m afraid.

I’m not sure where to start. Some of the the description I didn’t mind, even enjoyed. Annie matching food and art was interesting to me, the small snippets of dining and food history were probably my favourite parts. They were fun little insights on how and what people ate, and the idea of having themed dinner parties seems very entertaining to me. There was some character description as well. Or, I should rephrase, there was way too much character description. I do not always recall the full looks of a character, but I can tell you exactly how many freckles Annie had on her face.

My other major complaint, and  both frustrated and amazed me that the author got away with such a thing,  was the use of perspectives in this book. Writing perspectives can be tough, when you juggle several characters whose stories need to be told; and I remember clearly fantasy authors such as G. R. R. Martin and Brian Jacques managed it well. They only switched every chapter however. In this book, the perspectives switch from character to character within chapters, and even occasionally within paragraphs. This can create a sort of mental whiplash feeling as you suddenly realize the character point of view you are reading is different from the last sentence you just read.

Well that’s it for now. Hopefully I will get through Hild and post my review then. Other then that, I am currently planning which books to make our September choices…

May-June Book Review: Hild

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Like Sugar, I had a similarly hard time reading Hild, until finally I decided to power through by ignoring the names I didn’t recognize, & political intricacies I didn’t understand. Regardless, it still took me so long to finish this book… my average is about 2 weeks – Hild took over 2 months.

First, the bad. For me, this book was just waaaaay too dense, too long, with too many characters. I couldn’t keep track of who was who, and there was no good index apart from the family tree at the beginning. Also, being such a long book, you forget many characters just because it’s been such a long time since they first appeared. It’s hard to follow the implications of such-and-such marrying his daughter to that-guy, and that-guy’s brother winning the battle at whatsitcalled. As a result, most of the politics went over my head, and the significance of events just didn’t register. All of which to say, I couldn’t really follow what was happening for over 50% of the book.

A final nitpick, using the old languages was cool, but often only added to my confusion of the plot. It could have been used more sparingly, and/or reserved for untranslatable words and concepts only.

Next, the good. It was a historical fiction book, and though I didn’t follow the political aspects, I absolutely loved the historical details from the daily living point of view. Culture and society at that time period was vividly brought to life in my eyes, with a huge range of experiences. These included: working in the dairy, the medical knowledge of women, metal- & jewelry-smithing, the clash of the old & new religions, large trading centers, female friendships, geisths battles, power of reading, dangers of childbearing, peasant foods & feasts, and more that I can’t remember just now. Her descriptions sparkle, and were the highlight for me. I especially loved the bits about nature, wilderness, animals of forest & farm.

“The great pattern” Hild kept seeing snatches of was evocative & haunting; the weft and fold weaving a great pattern underlying everything. It both echoed the mysticism & religiousness of her seer role, but also of her highly observant and, I would say, scientific mind. It made me think of the ideas tied to a famous quote by Gallileo; that “the Book of Nature is written in the language of mathematics”, and as such, nature is built of overlapping patterns.

Also, very cool how the author had historically accurate people of colour peppered throughout the novel, as well as woman/woman love & fluid ideas of sexuality. Many historical fiction, and even historical non-fiction, books tend to ignore or gloss over that these things (and more!) existed in medieval Europe.

Finally, the ugly/weird. SPOILERS BELOW
If you haven’t finished the book, and want to, then quit reading now, because I’m about to spoil the last 15 pages or so. So, I can’t help but be glad that Hild gets a happy ending, because at times it seemed like she would meet a tragic end. However, I can’t get over the fact that she ends up with Cian, who is in fact her half-brother. Maybe incest wasn’t quite as bad in that time period, but… kind of spoiled it for me. He didn’t have to be revealed as her half-brother at all. Since Cian was a completely fictional character, he could have been written as a distant cousin, or unrelated altogether.

My final thought: I found this book was very enjoyable and interesting when NOT focusing on politics. Unfortunately, the political parts overwhelmed and bogged down the narrative. I feel if it had been re-written as more of an ‘everyday life’ kind of novel, with heavily simplified politics (& a full, detailed character index!), it would have made for a much stronger & better read.

August Book Choices

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1.The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

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2. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg
After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

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3. Frederica by Georgette Heyer

When Frederica brings her younger siblings to London determined to secure a brilliant marriage for her beautiful sister, she seeks out their distant cousin the Marquis of Alverstoke. Lovely, competent, and refreshingly straightforward, Frederica makes such a strong impression that to his own amazement, the Marquis agrees to help launch them all into society.

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4. Spider-Gwen by Jason Latour

IN ONE UNIVERSE, it wasn’t Peter Parker who was bitten by the radioactive spider, but Gwen Stacy! She’s smart, charming and can lift a car … just don’t tell her father, the police chief. Now, in the wake of Spider-Verse, Gwen swings into her own solo adventures! And she soon finds herself between a rock and a hard place when the Vulture attacks, and NYPD Lieutenant Frank Castle sets his sights on bringing her down. Then, still haunted by Peter’s death, Gwen visits his only family: Ben and May Parker. But what really happened the day Peter died? Find out right here as the spectacular Spider-Gwen steals not only the spotlight, but also the hearts of comic fans worldwide!

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5. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

Click here for poll!

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June and July Book Review

I should confess now, I couldn’t get through Hild. I tried, boy did I try. But at one point, when you’ve fallen asleep for a second time while reading a book, that you need to cut your losses. Considering I never fall asleep while reading, this was a quick cut, though an unfortunate one.

Hild was many things, boring one, but also so long. So long with so many names of people and places I couldn’t place, couldn’t remember, and wasn’t sure what their importance was. So I gave up, and read others things.

Now to July: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls.

I wasn’t expecting it to be about Body Positivity or how many, and few, chords it would strike in me. There were definitely a lot of lessons I learned from it, or became aware of. There were ways I started to see myself differently and the concept of fat.

It’s easy, I realized, to call yourself fat when you’re not and dig yourself into a deep pit of self-suffering. Reading this book made me realize that I wasn’t fat, not the way she describes it and how she lives it. It was kind of startling, that kind of realization, and I felt bad how often I’d kicked myself down.

It also brought great value to me in understanding that really breaking free of social expectations of what beauty should look like is trying not to be beautiful. Which is really hard for me, when I’ve been called pretty my entire life, but wanted to be more – more gorgeous and not pretty, or more sexy and not pretty. Pretty feels and continues to feel like it’s for small girls, but that lead to a lot of the lack of self-confidence I have, waiting for others to give me that stamp of approval.

So now I’m going to try to be different, in at least not waiting for someone else to tell me what or who I am. It’s a small step, reminding myself constantly in places that I feel like I want it like an itch under my skin. But, I don’t expect an overnight change, just one that I can look at a picture and think I look great on my own terms.

End of my rambling, I hope you read this book and give it a shot. You learn a lot about yourself as you read it, a lot of wrestling with yourself and your preconceived thoughts on value and beauty. It was a heavy and hard book to read, but never boring.

– Sugar Out

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage

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A little bit late but I’ve had a crazy month of weddings, travels and general business.

This one I didn’t actually “read” as I listened to it during long flights, meal prepping and bus rides. I should state now that I loved it, Gail Carriger has the kind of humour I get and enjoy.

I loved the sarcasm and wittiness of Sophronia, I liked how, though she is 14 at the beginning of the book, she isn’t overly childish or immature. She feels like a teenager, for sure, but it’s not over-exaggerated.

I enjoyed all the characters, especially the large female cast and some recurring characters. I liked how somethings weren’t black and white and some relationships weren’t easy. I enjoyed how these characters were flawed but it was okay, no one was judging them harshly for not being perfect in every way. Dimote with her lace and jewels, Sidhe with her boyishness and Agatha with her silence. I also liked the male characters, Pillover and Soap, and I’m excited to see where the romance goes.

Gail doesn’t seem the type to pick generic romantic pairings, so it will be exciting to see how to ends and why we don’t meet Sophronia in the Soulless series.

Overall I definitely recommend it, there’s something very enjoyable in reading such a feminine book, especially one teaching girls how to use that femininity to their advantage.

– Sugar Out