Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount: The perfect gift for the bibliophiles in your life!

If you’re looking for the absolutely perfect gift for a very special booklover, I’m here to tell you:

THIS IS THE ONE.

Bibliophile is just so, so wonderful. Anyone who’s crazy about books (and let’s face it, if you’re reading a book blog right now, you fit the category) will adore this book.

In this gorgeous hardcover, artist Jane Mount creates a reference guide/ode to great books/piece of artwork that is a pleasure to page through. I’ve had it sitting out on my nightstand for a few weeks now, ever since I treated myself to my very own copy, and I can personally attest that the few minutes I spend each day opening Bibliophile at random and soaking in a few pages at a time are utter bliss. And who doesn’t need that at the end of the day?

In my happy place

Okay, so now that I’ve raved on for a bit, here’s a little more about what’s actually inside.

Bibliophile is a smorgasbord of book-related subjects and illustrations, focusing on everything from favorite bookstores to bookstore cats, striking libraries to writers’ pets, iconic covers to books made into great movies.

The book is a gorgeous balance of illustrations and words, with full-color spreads to amaze and delight, such as the ones featured in this review on Read It Forward:

Jane Mount is a talented artist who specializes in books. You can check out her amazing work at Ideal Bookshelf, where you can find prints, notecards, totes and more — or if you really want to splurge you can even order a custom painting of your own favorite bookshelf.

Just a little taste of what’s available at https://www.idealbookshelf.com/collections/everything

By the way, you’ll probably want to check out her previous book, My Ideal Bookshelf, which features a round-up of cultural celebrities — writers, chefs, and more — describing the books they love the most, with Mount’s beautiful illustrations for each shelf.

And look at that! A post full of gift ideas for your favorite booklovers — or even little treats for yourself, because you deserve it.

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The details:

Title: Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany
Author: Jane Mount
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication date: September 11, 2018
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Non-fiction/art/reference
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #147: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Shelves final

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! For 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!

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Title: The Women in the Castle
Author: Jessica Shattuck
Published: 2017
Length: 356 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined in an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding.

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war each with their own unique share of challenges.

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

How and when I got it:

I won it in a Goodreads giveaway.

Why I want to read it:

Talk about guilt! I was so excited when I won this book — and somehow, it seems to always fall behind the nightstand or slip off the TBR stack (metaphorically speaking), and I’ve just never gotten to it. My husband read it soon after I first received it, and he thought it was incredibly powerful. I really have no excuse, and it makes me seem horribly ungrateful not to have read a giveaway book already. The subject matter sounds fascinating, and I know (from hubby as well as others) that it’s well worth reading. Note to self: Let’s make this a priority for 2019!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 6

Season 4 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 406: “Blood of My Blood”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Jamie and Claire are surprised when Lord John Grey drops in on Fraser’s Ridge with an unexpected traveling companion. When Grey takes ill, Claire must reconcile her personal feelings with her duties as a doctor.

My take:

Major plot points:

  • Guests come calling at Fraser’s Ridge! It’s Lord John and Willie — that would be young William, Jamie’s illegitimate son.
  • Dinner conversation gets awkward. Murtagh and Lord John do not see eye to eye.
  • Lord John comes down with measles. Jamie takes William out camping while John is contagious.
  • Claire tends to John, and the two have some intense conversations.
  • Jamie and William come close to getting killed by Cherokees.
  • Everyone is okay in the end!
  • Jamie gives Claire a new silver ring to replace the one stolen by Stephen Bonnet. Claire likes it.
  • Jamie and Claire get a little quality alone time together.

Insta-reaction:

Episode 406, “Blood of My Blood” — a lot of intense relationship drama, but an odd confrontation with a group of Cherokees threw me off kilter a bit.

It was sweet seeing John and Jamie greet each other after all these years. A little bit awkward too — what, no hug? Apparently, the two old friends/former warden and prisoner have been corresponding regularly, since John knew about Jamie’s new home on Fraser’s Ridge, and apparently knew that Claire had returned from wherever she was for 20 years. (THE FUTURE, John — she was in the FUTURE.)

William introduces himself to Jamie, but later realizes that this man is actually Mac, the former groom from Helwater who taught him to ride and was so important to him. He questions Jamie about why he didn’t say so in the first place. Jamie doesn’t have a good answer for this. Question: Is this the same young actor who played season 3 William? There’s a similar look, but this one looks a lot older (as he should).

[Answer (thanks, IMDb!) – no, it’s not the same actor, but they do look alike! Season 3 Willie is played by Clark Butler, and season 4 William (he’s grown up now, thank you very much) is played by Oliver Finnegan.

Season 3

Season 4

Murtagh is still visiting at Fraser’s Ridge, although he needs to get back to town to work at his smithy and also be a rabble-rousing Regulator. He and John square off over dinner over loyalty to Governor Tryon and the British government versus exploitation of the common folk. Needless to say, they do not see eye to eye. Later, Murtagh learns that William is actually Jamie’s son.

When John becomes ill, Claire worries that William may have been infected as well. She and Jamie are both immune — Jamie since he had measles as a child, and Claire thanks to being innoculated (yay, 20th century medicine!). The contagious period lasts six days, so Claire puts John to bed where she can care for him, and Jamie sets out to ride around the wilderness with William until the six days have passed. William is not down with this plan, and kicks up a fuss until Jamie picks him up and basically throws him on a horse. Nice parenting, Jamie.

Claire and John are a little prickly with one another. Well, Claire is the most prickly. John is mostly just desperately feverish and miserable. Claire pushes John to admit why he really came to Fraser’s Ridge, since it wasn’t really on his way. Was it to rub her face in his shared past with Jamie? Was he trying to make her jealous? No, really, it turns out that John’s wife Isobel died recently, and John was saddened to realize that he felt nothing. He needed to come see Jamie to find out if he could still feel anything at all. Turns out, yes, he could.

Claire and John finally understand one another, and end up offering one another an odd sort of friendship and respect.

Meanwhile, Jamie and William have a pretty good time out in the woods, where William learns to fish the Highlander way, shoots a deer and guts it himself, and spends some manly time with his bio dad. But when William crosses the boundary line into Cherokee territory, of course a group of Cherokee come along right then and threaten to kill one or both of them. William protects Jamie after Jamie tries to protect William, and the Cherokee, respecting William’s bravery, end up leaving without any murder happening.

Jamie and William return to the cabin to find a recovered John, and by the time John and William leave, William’s connection to Jamie has been reestablished. They share a final look as William rides away, not knowing when or if they’ll see each other again.

Later, Jamie and Claire are finally alone (since Ian is out on a hunting trip with some Cherokee friends). Jamie gives Claire a bath, then presents her with a new silver ring with a thistle-pattern design, made from his mother’s silver candlestick. Inside the ring is the inscription “da mi basia mille” — give me a thousand kisses. It’s a sweet, romantic moment, and leads to some sexy post-bath fireside love. These two… It’s nice to see that they’ve still got it!

The ring!!!

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

I could have done without the Cherokee scene this episode. It wasn’t at all necessary, other than to show Jamie declaring William to be his son in an effort to convince the Cherokee to kill him instead of William. Were they really going to kill William over a fish that he handed right back to them? Really? And are these different Cherokee than the ones Jamie established a friendship with and Ian is now spending time with? It was sweet that William threw himself in front of Jamie to save him, but the whole thing felt contrived to me, and I’m not particularly comfortable with scenes like this that show the Cherokee being unreasonably violent and murderous. Just seemed out of place, in my humble opinion.

Ha, this episode included the mother of awkward conversations. In his feverish delirium, John tells Claire that he could have had Jamie if he’d wanted to, when Jamie offered to repay John for adopting William by offering him his body. Claire seemed more than a little stunned by this, but where was the follow-up? John didn’t offer further explanation (although he did apologize for being offensive while sick), and we don’t see Claire asking Jamie about this. Wouldn’t you think a wife might ask her husband a few questions on the matter?

I did think it was funny when John made a point of telling Claire that he was an adequate husband to Isobel IN ALL WAYS. Um, Claire, that means that he did sleep with her. So quit acting like it was weird, even though he described his relationship with Isobel as being like brother and sister. At least William had loving parents!

And furthermore…

I liked all the little nods to favorite moments and icons from the books, including the snake in the privy in the opening shot, the resurrection of the silver ring and its inscription as described in the very first Outlander novel, and all the little bits of dialogue lifted straight from the text. It makes my bookish heart all warm and tingly to see the show honoring the source material, and makes me feel even more appreciative of the writers and showrunners for recognizing the importance of these moments.

It’s also really fun to play “spot the moment” with the images from the opening song. We’ve seen a bunch now — the arrival at River Run, the folding hands, the bath — but there are so many good ones still to come!

Can we please do something about this hair?

But a final note — can someone please give Jamie a haircut? Those fringe-y bangs are making me bonkers. Just grow them out or pull them back or something! Don’t get me wrong, Jamie can never look bad… but that hair style is doing him no favors.

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The Monday Check-In ~ 12/10/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Quuen by Tamora Pierce: I read both books in the Daughter of the Lioness duology. Sadly, a fairly weak story in the world of Tortall, which I really struggled to get through. My thoughts are here.

 

 

 

I also posted wrap-ups of two series that I loved:

Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi


Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce

In audiobooks, I listened to two terrific Audible Originals:

Check out my review of both, here.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 404, “Common Ground” (aired 11/25/2018) – my reaction post for the 4th episode is here.
Episode 405, “Savages” (aired 12/2/2018) – my reaction post for last week’s episode is here.
Episode 406, “Blood of My Blood” (aired 12/9/2018) – my reaction post for last night’s episode is on the way! I was too tired to stay up late enough to finish… so watch for my post later Monday or early Tuesday.

Fresh Catch:

Two new science fiction books arrived this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Library Book by Susan Orlean: I’d been wanting this book… and then a wonderful family member gave it to me for Hanukkah! I swear, I did NOT drop any hints. I’m just getting started, but loving it so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne: I got this from the library on a whim, while waiting for something else to come in. I’m just starting it today — wish me luck!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — getting close to the end for both!

  • Classic read: Middlemarch by George Eliot — we’ll be done in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon — just a few chapters still to go!

So many books, so little time…

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Audiobook double feature: Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets and Have A Nice Day

Audible Originals came through for me in a big way this week, as I listened to two terrific productions that really made me happy.

 

Legendary British comic Stephen Fry is our tour guide to the highs and the lows of Victorian society. In popular culture, the straitlaced era is portrayed as one of propriety, industry, prudishness, and piety. But scratch the surface and you’ll find haunting tales of scandal, sadism, sex, madness, malice, and murder.

“They were us in different dress and slightly different codes,” says Fry, whose signature wit and whimsy are in full force in this Audible Original. Find the quirky, dark, and forbidden details and family skeletons that even the most distinguished and conventional households attempted to cover up and hide, as you listen for the humanity beyond the polished veneer of this most fascinating era.

This audio adventure is a fun look at the secrets of the Victorian era, covering everything from fashion to lunacy to sexual orientation, plus sewers, sanitation, Sherlock Holmes, and more. Stephen Fry narrates, explaining the context and the strange stories from that time, and including interviews with historical experts and excerpts from diaries and newspapers of the time — all of which make the tales come to life. Parts of Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets are quite sad or disturbing, and some topics were of greater interest to me than others… but all in all, it’s really an informative and entertaining listen.

Audible Original: 7 hours, 33 minutes

 

Have a Nice Day features a live multi-cast script reading captured over two evenings at Minetta Lane Theatre in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Tony and Emmy Award winner Billy Crystal leads an all-star cast including Oscar winner Kevin Kline (President David Murray) and four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening (First Lady Katherine Murray) in a performance of this hilarious and poignant story about a man desperately scrambling to put his affairs in order: to save his presidency, his marriage, his relationship with his daughter—and possibly his life.

President David Murray starts the day in crisis. He’s lost control of Congress, has to decide whether to run for a second term, and his wife and teenage daughter are barely talking to him. What’s more, the Angel of Death has sent a rather inept “repo man” who is at the foot of his bed, giving him only one more day to live.

Cast members include Justin Bartha, Irene Bedard, Annette Bening, Chris Cafero, Dick Cavett, Auli’i Cravalho, Billy Crystal, Rachel Dratch, Darrell Hammond, Christopher Jackson, Robert King, Kevin Kline, and Robin Thede.

Have a Nice Day was an unexpected treat! I listened to this all in one go while out for a long walk, and got completely sucked into the funny yet poignant story of a man — in this case, the President of the United States — trying to make things right on the last day of his life. The story is written by Billy Crystal and Quinton Peeples, and features Billy Crystal as death’s messenger. Kevin Kline is terrific, as is Annette Bening and the rest of the cast. The story is sweet, and includes just enough laughs to keep it from getting too sappy. Still, I found myself really moved by the story of a good man trying to make amends to his wife and daughter –while also trying to keep his security detail and White House aides from freaking out over his caught-on-video moments going viral.

This is a relatively short listen, perfect for one of those weeks when your time is limited.

Audible Original; 1 hour, 46 minutes

If you’re an audiobook fan looking for a break from longer books or wanting to switch up fictional pursuits with something a bit different, give one (or both) of these recordings a try!

Disappointment between the covers: On reading Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce

If you’ve visited my blog at all during the last few months, you’ve probably seen me gushing over the series of fantasy books by Tamora Pierce that I’ve been listening to obsessively. These three quartets, all set in the kingdom of Tortall, feature brave young women finding their own unique strengths and showing courage under fire as well as compassion to those in need. I loved, loved, loved these books, and vowed to keep going until I’d read EVERYTHING set in Tortall.

That vow still holds, but this post will be a temporary break from the gushy lovefest.

I’ve been following story as well as publishing chronology, so after finishing the outstanding Protector of the Small quartet, my next adventure was to be the Daughter of the Lioness duology, starring Alianne, the 16-year-old daughter of Alanna, Tamora Pierce’s first heroine (and Tortall’s first Lady Knight).

I knew I was in trouble almost immediately. I’ve been listening to the audiobook for all of these series… but within the first few chapters of listening to book #1, Trickster’s Choice, I was hopelessly lost. So much exposition! It felt like I was being bombarded with thousands of names (people, places, historical figures), with no firm grounding in action to help keep track. I made the quick, tactical decision to switch to print, hoping that having the ability to flip back and forth and to refer to the maps and cast of characters listing in the print edition might help. Well… I suppose it helped a bit, but the essence of the story didn’t change, and that became a problem for me.

So what’s it all about?

Here’s the Goodreads summary for Trickster’s Choice:

The Future is in the hands of the next generation.

Aly: a slave with the talents of a master spy, a fabled lineage she must conceal, and the dubious blessing of a trickster god.

Sarai: a passionate, charming teenage noblewoman who, according to prophecy, will bring an end to a cruel dynasty.

Dove: the younger sister of Sarai; she has a calculating mind and hidden depths that have yet to be plumbed.

Nawat: a magical young man with a strangely innocent outlook and an even stranger past; Aly’s one true friend in a world where trust can cost you your life.

Aly is short for Alianne, daughter of Alanna the Lioness and George Cooper, Alanna’s husband and the spymaster of Tortall. Aly has been taught the tricks and secrets of the spy trade since infancy, but at age 16, she’s restless and wants to get out into the field, which her parents oppose. She sneaks out on her own to go boating and promptly gets kidnapped by pirates, who sell her into slavery in the nearby kingdom of the Copper Isles.

The Copper Isles are plagued by centuries of unrest between the ruling luarin (white) nobility and the down-trodden (brown-skinned, native) raka people. Aly becomes a slave in a noble household under suspicion from the reigning monarch. The trickster god Kyprioth, the god of the Copper Isles, enlists Aly in a plan to help raise a rebellion. And the adventure is underway.

I had a very hard time with this book. I was half-bored through most of it. As I mentioned, it’s a lot of people and places, but I didn’t connect with most of the characters. For a story about rebellion, the plot has some seriously slow points. But the chief problem I have with the story is Aly herself. She’s just too skillful and knowledgeable about being a spy. Yes, she comes from an espionage family, but she’s never been an agent or seen active duty. She never falters, never lacks the ability to carry out her ideas, and pretty much never screws up.

One of the things that makes the other Tortall quartets so special is seeing the main characters evolve from young, untrained youths who work and fight to fulfill their potential. Here in Trickster’s Choice, Aly already is who she is. There’s no learning curve, no doubt, and very little introspection.

And that’s not even addressing the social issues that are so problematic, which are talked about quite a bit in the many reviews to be found on Goodreads. Basically, this white, privileged girl from noble background has to swoop in to lead the native people to an uprising, which they apparently couldn’t manage without her. On top of which, when given the chance at freedom, Aly chooses to maintain her enslaved status in order to provide better cover for her mission from Kyprioth, which seems to imply that being enslaved maybe has a purpose. All of this made me very uncomfortable.

Oh, and the love interest is a crow who’s turned himself into a man and is learning to be human. Awkward.

I finished this book with a great sense of frustration and discontent… so why did I continue? Yes, despite my fairly unhappy time reading Trickster’s Choice, I went straight on to Trickster’s Queen, hoping for a stronger second act in the Daughter of the Lioness story.

In Trickster’s Queen:

The stage is set for revolution…

Aly: no longer just a master spy, but a master of spies. Can she balance her passion for justice and her compassion for others, and at what cost?

Sarai: beautiful, dramatic, and rash – will she fulfill the role chosen for her by destiny?

Dove: she has always stood in Sarai’s shadow. Can she prove to the world that she herself is a force to be reckoned with?

Nawat: half crow, half man. He wants Aly for his life mate, but will the revolution make that impossible as they step into new roles to change the future?

Suddenly, Aly is a spymaster. She pulls the strings and directs her pack of spies and their recruits, teaching spycraft and strategy, plotting with the raka rebellion leaders, and instigating high-stakes sabotage throughout the kingdom in an effort to undermine and destabilize the ruling monarchs.

And my frustration continues. How does Aly possibly have the skills to do all this? It makes no sense. And if I had to see Aly referring to her spies as “my children” or “dear ones” one more time, I was going to smack her.

I won’t go too far into story developments or resolutions. The book is sloooooow for a very long time, basically just a recounting of spy tactics and information gathering, over and over and over, until the actual battle takes place at the very end. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of bloodshed (and I’m not sure how we’re meant to feel about that), the fairly casual murder of children, and a befuddlingly huge number of named characters, when frankly, not every single spy, servant, or noble who shows up in a scene needs a name. It’s all just too much.

Argh. It’s so crushing to go from absolutely amazing books (like Protector of the Small) to such a let-down in the continuation of the overarching story.

I really did come close to quitting quite a few times, but I do want to continue with the Tortall books, and I still have a trilogy, a book of stories, and the 1st book in a new series to go. What if the people or events from the Trickster books end up mattering down the road? Call it bookish FOMO, but I forced myself… unhappily… to finish.

I will be moving on to the Beka Cooper trilogy fairly soon, once the library’s audiobooks become available. And once I get through all of my Tortallian TBR list, I’ll be able to better state whether Aly’s books are skippable. For future readers’ sakes, I hope that they are!

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Book details:

The Daughter of the Lioness duology:
Trickster’s Choice – published 2003
Trickster’s Queen – published 2004
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Wrapping up the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi (books 4 – 6)

Finally, after threatening to read these books for oodles of year, I’ve done it! As of this past week, I’ve finished the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi. I’m definitely feeling a sense of satisfaction over seeing this through — but what will I put on my reading resolution list for 2019, now that this perennial favorite has moved to the “already read” shelf?

After finishing the first three books in the six-book series, I wrote a wrap-up post (here) to share my thoughts from the halfway point. So now, I’ll dive back in and focus on books 4 – 6, which take the series in a decidedly different direction.

Book #4, Zoe’s Tale is THE EXACT SAME STORY as the one told in The Last Colony. The catch is, this time around we see events through the eyes of Zoe, adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan, and biological daughter of a man who came close to destroying all of humanity. (Spoiler alert: he failed.) Once again, we journey with the family to the new colony of Roanoke, where things go spectacularly badly for the human colonists.

Zoe is a fun point-of-view character, giving us the teen girl take on being dragged across the universe by her parents, being forced to leave her friends and technology behind, and engage in the dirty, difficult business of building a new home out of practically nothing.

Zoe is smart, and a smart-ass, and it’s exhilarating to see her come into her own and make a difference in intergalactic politics and intrigue. Plus, Zoe — by virtue of her birth father’s contributions — is a hero to an entire alien race, and seeing Zoe interact with her Obin bodyguards is worth the price of admission all on its own.

As a side note, throughout the series, Scalzi excels at creating multitudes of alien races and making them distinct and endlessly entertaining. Some are weird, some are scary, some are practically beyond description… and it all just adds to the fun of the Old Man’s War books.

You might think it would be dull to read about the same events in a second book, but trust me, it’s not. It’s kind of a blast to hear Zoe’s take on what happened, and to see how her version dovetails (or not) with her parents’ side of the story. Really, Zoe’s Tale is a great read — and I think best appreciated if read immediately following The Last Colony.

Zoe’s Tale is, in a way, an end of the main piece of the story, at least if you consider the series to be specifically about John Perry and his family. The next two books continue with events in the Old Man’s War universe, but have a very different format and focus.

Books #4 and 5, The Human Division and The End of All Things, are written (and were originally published as) a series of interconnected stories. John Perry’s actions at the end of the previous books pretty much blew up the uneasy coexistence of the Colonial Union (representing humanity) and the Conclave (an alliance of 400+ alien species). In these two books, we see what happens next.

Previously, Earth was kept isolated from the Colonial Union. Earth humans had the option of joining the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces) when they turned 75, but it was a one-way relationship. Earth was kept mostly in the dark about the goings-on out in space, and had no say in how humans interacted with the various other species they encountered.

John Perry broke through that barrier, and in The Human Division and The End of All Things, we see the fall-out. Earth is no longer willing to be merely a supplier of people and goods to the Colonial Union, and wants its own voice heard. In these two books, we meet diplomats — lots and lots of diplomats — from Earth, from the Colonial Union, and from the Conclave, each of whom represent their people’s interest, but carry layer upon layer of secret agendas as well.

Of course, these are John Scalzi books we’re talking about, so in addition to diplomatic negotiations, we have daring space rescues, lots of things blowing up, a brain in a box (yup!), wise-ass soldiers wielding mighty weapons while discussing ancient pop culture, descriptions of very interesting and sometimes scary alien beings, and more snark than might seem possible to fit into two paperback books.

As I said in my wrap-up of the first three books in the series:

Ever since discovering John Scalzi’s amazing books, I’ve know that I needed to make time for this series, but after talking about it for so long, it started feeling like a huge undertaking — and I’m not quite sure why. Now that I’ve dived in (and read three books in the space of a week), I can tell you that this series contains all the trademark Scalzi wit and smart-assery (is that a word? it should be a word) that we know and love from books like The Android’s Dream, Redshirts, and Lock In. I was afraid that Old Man’s War would be all hard sci-fi, serious and full of space battles, and I’m happy to say that that’s not the case. I mean, yes, there are space battles and the eradication of planets and species… but these books are funny, dammit, even while containing moments of deep emotion and moral dilemmas.

Now that I’ve reached the end of Old Man’s War, I can say that I’m 100% happy to have read the series! John Scalzi is consistently smart and funny in everything he writes, and I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan for life. I haven’t started his newest series, The Interdependency (which consists of two books so far, The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire) — so I guess I do have something Scalzi for my goals list for 2019 after all.

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The details:

Zoe’s Tale – published 2008; 325 pages
The Human Division – published 2013; 431 pages
The End of All Things – published 2015; 380 pages

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Series wrap-up: Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce

My year of reading Tamora Pierce continues, and I’m loving every moment! My most recent audio adventure was the Protector of the Small quartet, the 3rd quartet set in the fantasy world of Tortall. These book take place roughly a decade after The Immortals, and two decades after the Song of the Lioness quartet.

Protector of the Small follows a similar pattern to the Lioness books, covering a young girl’s progression through the stages of training to become a knight. In this series, the main character is Keladry of Mindalen, a girl from a noble Tortallian family who idolizes Alanna, the King’s Champion (and star of the Lioness books). Kel’s ambition is to become a knight, like Alanna, but there’s a big difference: Alanna disguised herself as a boy and kept her true identity a secret throughout her training years, only revealing herself as a woman once she succeeded in becoming a knight. While the laws of the kingdom were then changed to allow girls to seek knighthood, none have tried — until Kel.

Kel enrolls in her training as a girl, and refuses to hide her gender or pretend to be something she’s not. She’s out to prove herself, but also to help pave the way for others girls who, like her, have dreamed of becoming warriors and need only the opportunity to make it happen.

Kel differs from Alanna in another significant way: Alanna had the Gift — magical abilities — but Kel has none. If Kel is to succeed, she’ll do so powered only by her mind, her will, her drive, and her strength.

The story of Protector of the Small:

In book #1, First Test, 10-year-old Kel arrives at the palace to begin her training as a page, the first step in becoming a knight. Raised in a noble family, Kel has spent her most recent years in the Yamani Islands, where she learned discipline as well as a variety of fighting skills. Kel’s acceptance into the page training program is hotly disputed, with the training instructor, Lord Wyldon, being absolutely opposed to admitting a girl. Finally, he agrees to train her on a probationary basis — something the boys aren’t subject to, which Kel fumes over. Still, this is the condition for her remaining at all, so she grits her teeth and sees it through.

From the start, it’s clear that Kel won’t back down. She’s been told that it’s customary for the older boys to haze the new pages, but when Kel witnesses outright bullying and degradation going on, she intervenes and fights back, soon earning the friendship of other first-year boys to whom she’s given her protection. Her circle of friends expands to include a working-class maid who begins serving Kel, whom Kel then encourages to stand up for herself and pursue her dream of becoming an independent dressmaker. Lord Wyldon can’t help but be impressed by Kel’s utter devotion to her training, her grit, her cool under fire, and her ability to lead in times of unexpected danger. Kel officially ends her probation, and becomes a full-fledged page.

Book #2, Page, sees Kel continue with the next three years of her training, becoming one of the most skilled fighters among her class, proving over and over again that she’s strong enough and dedicated enough to have the right to try for her shield. In the 3rd book, Squire, Kel becomes squire to Lord Raoul, the Lord Commander of the King’s Own, a fierce group of fighters. At Raoul’s side, Kel learns the art and science of the battlefield, studying warfare and the skills of command, and again proving herself of high value to her comrades and the kingdom. At long last, Kel passes the Ordeal of the Chamber, the terrifying test required as a last ritual before knighthood, and becomes the Lady Knight Keladry.

Finally, in book #4, Lady Knight, Kel sets to work in defense of the realm. A war rages on the northern border of Tortall, as Scanra, the neighboring kingdom, sends raiding parties and killing machines to slaughter townspeople living near the border and try to drive Tortallans off their own land. Kel is assigned to set up and protect a refugee camp, which she at first resents: Do they not think she’s capable of being a warrior in battle? But as she comes to realize, protecting a group of untrained civilians is an incredibly hard job, one that tests her ability to lead, to plan, and to fight. Ultimately, it’s up to Kel to stage a showdown with the evil mage behind the devastating killing machines and to rescue her people from their captors. I won’t give away the details… but rest assured that the Protector of the Small quartet has a very satisfying ending!

What a series! I really loved these books, and the audiobooks (narrated by Bernadette Dunne) are really well-done and exciting to listen to. There’s a big cast of characters, but it’s not hard to keep up and keep them all straight. It’s quite fun to see the beloved characters from earlier books pop up here — Alanna, King Jonathan, Daine, Numair — although they’re relegated to mostly smaller roles. After all, they’re all adults now — not nearly as exciting as teen-aged Kel! (Kidding… but this is YA, after all.)

Keladry of Mindelan, from Deviant Arts webisite, by artist CPatten, https://www.deviantart.com/cpatten/art/Protector-of-the-Small-484097486

Kel is a fantastic main character. She’s noble and strong, and consistently puts the needs of the weak and less powerful first, devoting herself to serving those who need her help the most. She doesn’t tolerate bullies or tyrants or people who abuse their power, and she just doesn’t back down. Kel is far from fearless — she’s terrified of letting people down, worries constantly about whether she’s doing the right thing — but once she’s set on her path, she doesn’t let fear stop her.

I love that Kel achieves all that she achieves under her own steam, no magic or interference from the gods involved. She works for what she gets, and if she’s not great at something, she’ll keep working at it until she is. But Kel doesn’t stop with her own training and skills — she trains those around her, all the various people she protects, so that they too can defend and fight for themselves. It’s inspiring, truly.

Being a Tamora Pierce book, there have to be special animals, and this book has plenty. Animals who live in the vicinity of Daine, the Wild Mage (see my wrap-up of The Immortals for more on Daine) develop extra skills, including the ability to communicate with humans and interact with them. Here, Kel has a flock of sparrows who become her devoted band of guardians, as well as a raggedy dog who fights alongside Kel — all of whom came into her life originally as animals Kel fed and cared for. There are more along the way, including Kel’s horse Peachblossom, a baby griffin, and by the end of the series, a whole squad of cats and dogs who help protect the people of Kel’s fortress camp.

I’ve loved all of the Tortall books I’ve read so far. I’m tempted to say that the Kel books are my favorite — but I’ve been saying that as I’ve finished each quartet along the way! Tamora Pierce has created an incredibly rich and detailed world filled with remarkable characters, and I love the strong young women at the center of her tales.

I can see why my daughter has returned to the Tortall books so many times over the years! I have a feeling I’ll be doing the same.

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Book details:

First Test – published 1999
Page – published 2000
Squire – published 2001
Lady Knight – published 2002

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Shelf Control #146: Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Shelves final

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! For 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!

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Title: Bellweather Rhapsody
Author: Kate Racculia
Published: 2014
Length: 340 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians have gathered at the Bellweather for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a blizzard is threatening to trap them all inside. When a young prodigy disappears from infamous room 712, the search for her entwines an eccentric cast of conductors and caretakers, teenagers on the verge and adults haunted by memories. This is a genre-bending page-turner, full of playful nods to pop-culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee.

How and when I got it:

I bought it, years ago!

Why I want to read it:

Somehow or another, I read a bookish friend’s gushing review of this book — I don’t remember who the friend was, or where I read it, but I know that after reading the recommendation, I ordered a copy for myself. I can’t imagine how a book can be reminiscent of both Glee and The Shining, but it sounds quirky and odd enough to appeal to me! Has anyone out there read this book? Any thoughts?

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 12/3/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate! It seems so early this year, and I’m not ready! Luckily, with an 8-day holiday, there’s still time to get my act together, get the gifts wrapped, and get in the spirit.

What did I read during the last week?

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: Not the best by this author. My review is here.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren: Another winner from this author duo! My review is here.

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson: More light, fun fiction! My review is here.

The End of All Things (Old Man’s War, #6) by John Scalzi: I finished the series! A series wrap-up post is on the way…

In audiobooks:

Lady Knight (Protector of the Small, #4) by Tamora Pierce: Finished with this quartet! I loved these books — and main character Kel — so much! I’ll be writing a series wrap-up post for this one too, eventually.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 404, “Common Ground” (aired 11/25/2018) – my reaction post for last week’s episode is here.
Episode 405, “Savages” (aired 12/2/2018) – my reaction post for the newest episode is here.

Fresh Catch:

I had a gift card, and immediately bought myself some gifts:

Yippee! Lucky me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Trickster’s Choice (Daughter of the Lioness, #1) by Tamora Pierce: Yes, I’m continuing my journeys through the land of Tortall! Now that I’ve finished the Protector of the Small quartet audiobooks, I’m continuing straight onward with the Daughter of the Lioness duology. HOWEVER… after listening to the first couple of chapters, I decided to switch to the print version. For some reason, this book was particularly hard to follow via audiobook — too many new names and places right up front! And this way, I can refer back to the maps at the beginning of the book whenever I get lost, which seems to be happening constantly.

Now playing via audiobook:

Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets: An Audible original about secrets and scandals in the Victorian era. Seems totally charming so far.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — getting close to the end for both!

  • Classic read: Middlemarch by George Eliot — we’ll be done in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon — we’ll be done in mid-December.

So many books, so little time…

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