Happy 20th anniversary to J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter!
May the magic of Harry Potter continue for many more years and generations!
Between marathon TV binges and a crazy week at work, I just haven’t had the focus to sit down and write reviews. I’ve barely been reading!
What did I read last week?
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire: Absolutely loved it. Such beautiful writing. I may still get my act together enough to write a mini-review, but meanwhile, do yourself a favor and read this book (and Every Heart a Doorway) ASAP.
The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion: One of those books that leaves me saying “it was fine”, with nothing much else to add. It was an okay read about marriage, relationships, and regrets, but left pretty much zero impression on me.
And oh yeah, I read a few graphic novels:
See below. Obsessed…
Pop culture goodness:
My Walking Dead binge continues — I just finished season 5. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
I was so excited to receive an ARC in the mail:
It looks like a great read!
No other new books… unless you count library books, in which case I went a teensy bit overboard, coming home with about 10 books from my hold list. Needless to say, I suspect at least a few will go back unread.
What will I be reading during the coming week?
Trying to get a jump on some upcoming July releases, starting with these two ARCs:
Arabella by Georgette Heyer: Light-hearted, silly fun — so enjoyable.
None at the moments. It’s so nice to be able to read commitment-free.
So many books, so little time…
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
This book is simply beautiful and brilliant, and a perfect companion to Every Heart A Doorway. I can’t help gushing over the writing throughout the book. For this week’s selection, I’m going with a couple of passages from the earlier parts of the book, before the storyline enters a more magical domain. Here, the focus is on parenting and the damage so easily inflicted on the souls of children.
This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.
It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.
Another little heartbreaking snippet, when the main characters’ only source of adult comfort and caring is kicked out of their lives:
Louise Wolcott slipped out of her granddaughters’ lives as easily as she had slipped into them, becoming a distant name that sent birthday cards and the occasional gift (most confiscated by her son and daughter-in-law), and was one more piece of final, irrefutable proof that adults, in the end, were not and never to be trusted. There were worse lessons for the girls to learn.
This one, at least, might have a chance to save their lives.
What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!
If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:
Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.
Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.
Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!
My Shelf Control pick this week is:
What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):
The critically acclaimed first-ever prose novel published by DC/Vertigo — now in trade paperback.Set in the imaginative realm of the award-winning comic book series FABLES, the book takes place long ago, in the deepest dark of The Black Forest. Two brothers — Peter Piper and his older brother Max — encounter ominous forces that change them both irreparably. Thus begins an epic tale of sibling rivalry, magic, music and revenge that spans medieval times to the present day, when their deadly conflict surfaces in the placid calm of modern day Fabletown.
PETER & MAX: A FABLES NOVEL features the prose of award-winning comic book writer Bill Willingham and the lush ink drawings of FABLES artist Steve Leialoha. The novel also reveals secrets of some of the regular FABLES series cast members including Bigby Wolf, Frau Totenkinder and Bo Peep. Also included is an 8-page sequential story by Willingham and Leialoha that serves as a bridge to the FABLES titles.
How I got it:
I bought it.
When I got it:
A few years, in the midst of my Fables obsession.
Why I want to read it:
Hello? Fables? Only one of the most amazing graphic novel series ever? I was heartbroken when Fables came to an end. Somewhere in the middle of my binge-reading extravaganza, I picked up a copy of Peter & Max. Because it’s a prose novel and not a graphic novel, this book hasn’t called to me in quite the same way as the rest of the Fables body of work, but I do intend to read it eventually.
Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is the Top Ten Series I’ve Been Meaning To Start But Haven’t. I’m pretty series-averse these days, trying not to start new series unless all volumes are already published and available. I just don’t have the patience (or attention span) to get involved in any more ongoing series with no end in sight!
Here are some series that I’ve yet to start (but want to), and some that I’ve started but not finished.
On the new to me side:
1) Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
2) Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
3) Temeraire by Naomi Novik
4) The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
5) Rosemary & Rue by Seanan McGuire
6) And speaking of Seanan McGuire, I still need to read the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant
And for series that I’ve started and need to get back to:
7) The Dark Tower by Stephen King – I’ve read 3 books so far.
8) Locke & Key by Joe Hill – I’ve read all but the last volume! How crazy is that?
9) The Expanse by James S. A. Corey – I’ve barely made a dent, but I love what I’ve read (2 books) so far.
10) Poldark by Winston Graham – I think I’ve read 5 out of 12.
What book series are you dying to read? Share your link, please, and I’ll come check out your top 10!
Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I host a Book Blog Meme Directory, and I’m always looking for new additions! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!
I’ve been away, and now I’m back! It’s been a hectic couple of weeks — but on the plus side, I did do a lot of reading.
What did I read last week?
Spaceman by Mike Massimino: I loved this audiobook. My review is here.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King: It seems like I always need to read some King while I travel. I FINALLY gave Mr. Mercedes a try, and couldn’t put it down. My review is here — bring on Finders Keepers!
What else did I read while I was away? Check out my mini-reviews for all of the books below in my wrap-up post, here.
Pop culture goodness:
I saw a few movies while I was away, one in an amazingly comfortable theater with reclining seats and two at home on my sister’s equally comfy couch:
And in other pop culture indulgences… my son and I are totally obsessed with The Walking Dead. Our binge continues — we’re now about midway through season 4.
I bought myself a present!
What will I be reading during the coming week?
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire: SO excited to be reading the follow-up to Every Heart A Doorway, one of my faves.
After that, it’s time for a book group book: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann: This should be fascinating, but I’ve listened to about 30% so far, and the audiobook just isn’t holding my attention. I may need to switch to print and find something else to listen to. I’m taking a little break for a few days to listen to…
… Arabella by Georgette Heyer, which is a total delight so far. So, yay me for making the switch from an audiobook that wasn’t working to one that’s just so much fun!
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon: DONE!!! After 145 chapters and 18 months of group reads and discussions, Outlander Book Club has finished this massive book. Next up will be a group read of Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John books and stories, starting in the fall. (Ask me if you want more info.)
Meanwhile, I have actually ZERO ongoing reads happening at the moment, and it’s pretty nice to be completely free from a reading schedule.
So many books, so little time…
I can’t call the last two weeks a vacation. Yes, I was away from home. No, it wasn’t relaxing. And while there were plenty of fun moments spending time with my sisters and friends, for the most part, it was stress, work, and exhaustion that ruled the day.
Side note: When we imagine our adult lives, I’m sure none of us think about caring for elderly parents and the hard decisions that involves, but sooner or later, if we’re lucky enough to have parents that live that long, it’s something that we inevitably have to deal with.
Meanwhile, I did a lot of reading while on airplanes and sitting around hospital rooms and nursing homes. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away… everything from feral hippos to church ladies to war stories.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett: Contemporary fiction about teen lovers and the impact on an entire congregation, as told (mostly) through the eyes of the older women who form the backbone of their close-knit church community. The story is engaging, but at times the actions of the characters made me so angry I wanted to hurl the book at the closest wall. (Since I was reading on an airplane, this would not have been a good idea.) Still, I enjoyed the character development, the look at the impact of the characters’ decisions and how these set the course of the rest of their lives, and the intricate weaving of connections, friendships, and family loyalty.
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan: If you’ve ever checked out the Bookshelf Porn website, you’ll know what I mean when I say that this book is booklover porn. No, there’s nothing graphic or dirty or illicit here — but it’s sure to touch the fantasies of every devoted bookworm who ever dreamed of owning her own bookstore. Here, the 29-year-old main character, a downsized librarian, buys a big van, stocks it with every book she can get her hands on, and drives around the Scottish Highlands selling books to people who clearly need them. Lives are changed. Quirky villagers abound. And there’s even a love story! This is a sweet, lovely book, perfect for vacation reading or really, for any time you want to get away from the daily grind and wallow in the fantasy of finding a perfect life that combines reading, handling books, and being madly in love.
Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall: A beautiful yet devastating story of sisters, love, and sacrifice set during the Civil War. When Libby’s husband Arden is killed on the battlefield, Libby vows to get revenge by joining the Rebel army herself and killing one Yankee soldier for every year that Arden lived. Libby’s older sister Josephine can’t talk her out of it and can’t stand the idea of Libby going off alone, so the two sisters disguise themselves as teen boys and enlist. Sisters of Shiloh shows the savage butchery of the Civil War battlefields and the horrible deprivations suffered by the soldiers, but above all, it’s a story about courage and sisterly devotion. While I occasionally wanted to just shake some sense into Libby, I loved Josephine and found her part of the story deeply affecting and inspiring. I’d consider this book must-read historical fiction.
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley: Warning: If you can’t handle sad dog stories, walk away now. Lily and the Octopus is the story of a lonely man whose life revolves around his beloved dachshund Lily. He constructs elaborate fantasies to narrate their life together (including interactive games of Monopoly and pizza nights), and simply can’t face reality when he spots what he calls an “octopus” on her head — his make-believe image for a tumor. As the story progresses, his battle against the octopus to save Lily’s life becomes increasingly complex — but ultimately, this is the story of a man slowly losing his steadiest, truest companion, and it’s a tearjerker. The octopus and other pieces of the fantasy were a little too much for me at times, but other than that, this is a moving story of love and connection.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey: Oh my. Feral hippos in the Mississippi River marshlands! In this alternate version of US history, the government has solved the country’s meat shortage by importing hippos to be bred in the bayou. Hippo ranches are huge moneymakers, and cowboys ride exotic breeds of hippos known for their overland speed. Meanwhile, feral hippos haunt the criminal-run riverboats — a handy punishment for those who get caught cheating at cards. A ragtag band is assembled to stop a dastardly plot, and this gang is loads of fun, and full of people representing all the shades of the gender rainbow — all without blinking an eye. This novella is oodles of entertainment, and its underlying silliness absolutely hit the spot on a stressful day. I can’t wait for the sequel, Taste of Marrow, due out in September.
The Deep by Nick Cutter: This is a quick page-turner, but I found myself weirdly unengaged. An odd global virus starts the book on a promising note, but the virus piece is soon overshadowed by the malevolent goings-on deep in the sea at a research lab at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. There are lots of icky and creepy things in a setting that should be terrifying… but it just wasn’t scary, there’s no pay-off for the initial premise, and ultimately, the conclusion simply wasn’t satisfying. There is, however, tons of yuck and ick, so definitely not a book for the squeamish.
We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan: A graphic novel limited series (consisting of six installments) that tells the story of a US invasion of Canada and the scruffy resistance team that fights back. It’s quite fun, and a quick read. Fans of Saga and Y: The Last Man will absolutely want to check this one out.
And that’s what I read while I was away! I covered a lot of ground — horror, historical fiction, comics, and dogs, to name a few — and that’s just the way I like it. Give me a stack of books with a lot of variety, and I’m a happy camper, no matter where I may find myself.
And now that I’m home, I’m looking forward to diving back into my bookshelves and seeing what odd array of books I can come up with next!
In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.
In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.
Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.
Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.
Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.
I’m super late to this party, having finally read Mr. Mercedes just about three years after its publication. Why did I wait so long? No idea… but I’m glad I convinced myself to pick up the paperback that’s been sitting on my shelf for so long.
In Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King introduces us to a wonderful main character, Bill Hodges — a retired detective with nothing much to do except watch TV and fiddle with his gun, until he’s contacted by an elusive mass murderer who lives for the destruction he causes. As Hodges becomes reenergized by his search for the killer, he risks himself, his allies, and possibly thousands of lives to track down the psycho before he strikes again.
The plot is so tight and exciting that it’s impossible to look away. I sped through the story, because it’s one of those books where you just need to know what’s next and what’s after that.
I loved the main character and his two unlikely sidekicks, and found the chapters told from the killer’s perspective utterly chilling and convincing. Ick. Inside Brady’s head is not a healthy place to be. I also loved the shout-outs to King’s earlier works, as well as the mention of Judas Coyne from Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box.
I can’t wait to continue with this trilogy! Stephen King is my go-to guy for when I need a book to keep me company while traveling, and he never lets me down. Mr. Mercedes is a winner. A must-read for King fans, of course (and why did I ever doubt that?), but also just a great crime thriller for anyone who enjoys the intensity of the genre.
Title: Mr. Mercedes
Author: Stephen King
Publication date: June 3, 2014
Length: 436 pages
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that’s about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour? Or to look back on the earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you’re about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind’s chance to unlock the universe’s secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity.
Massimino’s childhood space dreams were born the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, but his journey to realizing those dreams was as unlikely as it is captivating. Growing up in a working-class Long Island family, Massimino catapulted himself to Columbia and then MIT, only to flunk his qualifying exams and be rejected twice by NASA before making it to the final round of astronaut selection—where he was told his poor eyesight meant he’d never make the cut. But even that couldn’t stop him from finally earning his wings, making the jump to training in T-38 Air Force jets and preparing his body—and soul—for the journey to the cosmos.
Taking us through the surreal wonder and beauty of his first spacewalk, the tragedy of losing friends in the Columbia shuttle accident, and the development of his enduring love for the Hubble telescope—which he’d be tasked with saving on his final mission— Massimino has written an ode to never giving up and the power of teamwork to make anything possible. Spaceman invites us into a rare, wonderful world where the nerdiest science meets the most thrilling adventure, and pulls back a curtain on just what having “the right stuff” really means.
I’ve always had a fascination with the space program, and I’ve loved both fiction and non-fiction books about the early days of NASA and the astronaut program, as well as more humorous (but still informative) works like Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. I came across Spaceman purely by chance, and my first thought was, “Hey! It’s that guy who played an astronaut on The Big Bang Theory!”
Well, that’s true, but Mike Massimino is much more than some dude who had a cameo on a sit-com. Massimino embodies the “right stuff”, the true core of what makes an astronaut special. And I’m delighted that I took the time to listen to his audiobook and experience his story.
In Spaceman, Massimino takes us through his New York childhood, his education, his repeated attempts to overcome hideously difficult challenges — oh, for example, fixing his eyesight in order to meet NASA standards — and his determination to one day be a real astronaut.
Through it all, we get an intimate view of the US space program and its triumphs and tragedies, as well as one man’s dedication to achieving his life’s goals.
Massimino presents it all with humility and with humor. For a man who is startlingly intelligent and talented, he’s incredibly self-deprecating throughout the book, and does not shy away from discussing his shortcomings. His repeated message is about sticking with things, even when they seem impossible or out of reach.
Massimino himself narrates the audiobook, which is a wonderful thing. He’s got a gruff, deep voice, and it’s perfect for conveying his own story. Listening to him narrate his first space flight or his father’s illness or his sorrow over lost colleagues, you get the sense that his feelings are real and true, and there’s a sense of immediacy and intimacy in hearing him speak his own words.
There are a few truly beautiful things about Spaceman. One is the portrayal of friendship and goodness that Massimino presents as he speaks about his colleagues in the space program. He describes the dedication, the support, and the sacrifice that they all bring. Through his narrative, the picture emerges of people dedicating their lives to a higher cause, who genuinely believe in what they’re doing and that they’re making a difference in the lives of humankind.
Second is the devotion to one another among the people involved in NASA. When personal needs or crises emerge, the team is there for the individuals and their families, and it’s real. It goes way beyond sending flowers to a bereaved coworker — these people really care and give of themselves in thousands of ways.
Third, Massimino’s descriptions of what it feels like to fly, to spacewalk, and to see the Earth from a distance of 350 miles — just gorgeous. For a scientist, he’s practically a poet.
Finally, I couldn’t help thinking that Massimino himself is just a really nice guy. He says good things about EVERYONE. There’s not a single person he mentions in this book that he doesn’t praise or offer gratitude toward, and he’s quick to point out the talents of just about everyone he’s worked with. Some memoirs focus on the guilty secrets; in Spaceman, we only see the good. Quite impressive.
Sections of Spaceman are particularly moving, but none more so than when Massimino tells of the Columbia shuttle tragedy. He knew all of the lost crewmembers personally, and makes the disaster feel all the more tangible through the descriptions of the terrible events and human loss.
I highly recommend Spaceman — definitely for those who enjoy reading about space exploration, but also for anyone who appreciates a straightforward tale of one person’s journey toward his goals, told by someone who appreciates every opportunity he’s had to pursue and live his dreams.
A reading note: While I loved listening to the audiobook and hearing Massimino narrate his own story, I found it helpful to have a print copy (thank you, public library) on hand as well, both for going back and checking earlier chapters, and in order to be able to view the photos that go along with the story.
Title: Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Mike Massimino
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Length (print): 320 pages
Length (audiobook): 10 hours, 57 minutes
It’s been a long 2 1/2 weeks, but…
Unfortunately, my time away wasn’t exactly a vacation. I was on the east coast, working with other family members to relocate our aging parents and settle them into a nursing home. This ended up involving interstate flights, wheelchair transportation, nursing aides, moving trucks, visits to hospitals, and transferring medical records, but in the end, we made it.
Good company and a few glasses of wine certainly helped.
I’ve been completely absent from my own blog, and definitely have been checked out from the world of social media, following anyone else’s blog posts, and all that other good stuff to be found on the interwebs.
But hey, I’m back!
I did manage to read a ton while I was gone, thanks to all those flights (and a few sleepless nights). I think I’ll do a bunch of mini-reviews to catch up on all the books I read. Some were great, some only so-so, but I’ll try to share thoughts on all over the next few days, in between trying to catch up on everything I missed at home and going back to work after a couple weeks away.
Bette Davis supposedly said:
(I say “supposedly”, because I’ve seen 3 or 4 different versions of this attributed to her, and haven’t found the definitive version yet.)
In any case, old age ain’t for sissies, but neither is being the folks making all the arrangements! I have to say that I feel lucky and blessed to have had some wonderful family members to partner with to make it all happen.
And now, I’m taking a few deep breaths and diving back into my normal, day-to-day life.
It’s great to be home!