Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Title: The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency, #1)
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: March 21, 2017
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe by the Hugo Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of Redshirts and Old Man’s War.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

It’s been a while since I’ve read John Scalzi — about a year and a half, in fact, since I finished his Old Man’s War series. And I gotta say, it’s great to be back!

The Collapsing Empire is the first book in the Interdependency trilogy, which concludes with the upcoming The Last Emperox, to be published in April 2020.

In this trilogy, humanity has left Earth behind and has settled in a vast collection of systems known as the Interdependency, which functions as an empire ruled by hereditary royalty (the Emperox), with a leadership council made up of representatives of the ruling houses (the nobility), the church, and the parliament. The Emperox is the supreme leader and is also the head of the church. Whew. Kind of complicated.

The planets of the Interdependency are far-flung and without (non-existent) faster than light travel, would be completely isolated from one another. But there’s the Flow, a space-time current that, well, flows between the different system and allows for interplanetary commerce and travel. It’s been assumed that the Flow is stable, but a new, secret study shows that it’s collapsing… and once it collapses, the worlds it connects will once again be isolated. And given how interwoven economically the worlds of the Interdependency are, isolation will likely mean the eventual extinction of the human race, as none of these worlds are capable of self-sustenance.

That’s a lot to take in, right? I actually started this book as an audiobook, as I usually love Scalzi audiobooks thanks to (a) the humor and (b) the awesome narration by Wil Wheaton. With The Collapsing Empire, though, I had to switch to print before I even made it through the prologue. There was simply too much detail to take in, and for me at least, absorbing it all merely by listening just wasn’t going to work.

Thankfully, once I switched to print, I definitely got into the flow (ha!) of the story. It’s not terribly long, but the author absolutely packs it full of people, governmental systems, intricate family relationships, backstory on trade and rebellions, and much, much more.

But beyond how much world-building there is to adjust to, there’s the fun of the characters and their craziness. Scalzi books are always funny, and his characters here are not comic, but so clever and snarky that they made me giggle anyway. There ‘s a lot of scheming and manipulation and threats and bribery and intimidation, and it’s all great fun. Not to mention the fact that the story itself is pretty compelling — I’m going to want to get my hands on the next book, The Consuming Fire, just as soon as I can.

While I really enjoyed this book, I think it was perhaps just a little too packed for my taste. I had to stop and reread paragraphs all the time, just to make sure I was absorbing all the points about the government and the planets and the laws and the houses… like I said, it’s a lot.

Do I recommend this book? Definitely! But just be aware that while it’s mostly light-hearted, it’s not actually a light read. Be prepared to put in a bit of effort, and it’ll be fine.

Shelf Control #206: A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs

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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: A Map of Days (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #4)
Author: Ransom Riggs
Published: 2018
Length: 480 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The #1 bestselling series returns with a thrilling new story arc set in America!

Vintage photographs reveal the never-before-seen world of peculiar America with a stunning addition—full-color images.

Having defeated the monstrous threat that nearly destroyed the peculiar world, Jacob Portman is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma, and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery—a subterranean bunker that belonged to Jacob’s grandfather, Abe.

Clues to Abe’s double-life as a peculiar operative start to emerge, secrets long hidden in plain sight. And Jacob begins to learn about the dangerous legacy he has inherited—truths that were part of him long before he walked into Miss Peregrine’s time loop.

Now, the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom—a world with few ymbrynes, or rules—that none of them understand. New wonders, and dangers, await in this brilliant next chapter for Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children. Their story is again illustrated throughout by haunting vintage photographs, but with a striking addition for this all-new, multi-era American adventure—full color.

How and when I got it:

I bought myself a brand-new copy right when the book was released in 2018.

Why I want to read it:

I really enjoyed the original Peculiar Children trilogy when I finally got around to reading it… but the story had a definite ending, or so I thought at the time, and was surprised to hear that there would be another three books in the series. When #4, A Map of Days, was released, I had to have a copy, but then I never felt particularly in the mood to read it. Book #5 just came out last month, so I suppose I should go ahead and jump back into this world. The odd photos add so much to the story, and I am interested in seeing how the new adventures play out. 

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

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!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Characters I’d Follow On Social Media

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Characters I’d Follow On Social Media. That’s a tough one! But sure, I’ll play along. Here are a bunch of fictional characters who I’d bet would be oodles of fun on social media.

1. Claire Fraser (Outlander): No better source for handy medical tips and instructions on how to grow your own penicillin.

2. Verity Price (InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire): For super impressive free running videos, plus maybe some tango lessons too.

3. Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen): You just know she’d be an awesome book blogger, right? Or actually, fan fiction would probably be perfect for Catherine, especially if there are vampires and haunted houses involved.

4. Emma Woodhouse (Emma by Jane Austen): For all the gossip, of course!

5. Geralt of Rivia (Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski): Okay, granted, Geralt himself is pretty anti-social… but I could see Jaskier setting up a fan site and getting tons of followers while he creates memes about Geralt’s latest battles.

6. Emma Sheridan (Finding Fraser by KC Dyer): This one might be almost too obvious. In the book, Emma goes off to Scotland to find her very own Jamie Fraser, and blogs about it. So why not follow along?

7. Lara Jean Covey (Lara Jean books by Jenny Han): She’s so adorable! You know her posts would be the highlight of your day.

8. Prudence Maccon Akeldama (Custard Protocol series): Prudence is snarky and funny, goes on mad adventures, and has the BEST social connections.

9. Evelyn Hugo (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid): All the glamour! All the Hollywood scandals!

10. Paul Sheldon (Misery by Stephen King): Because I’m his biggest fan.

And hey, if you really want to see fictional characters having fun with technology, check out this amazing book:

What characters would you want to follow on social media?

Please share your thoughts, and if you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 5, Episode 2

Season 5 is here! I’ll be writing 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 502: “Between Two Fires”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

As Jamie continues to hunt Murtagh with the aid of the zealous Lieutenant Hamilton Knox, he’s forced to consider whether or not he’s on the right side of history.

My take:

Major plot points:

Jamie and Claire have no scenes together. So there’s that. Otherwise…

  • Claire applies 20th century medical techniques back in the 18th century.
  • Brianna tries to help Roger fit in.
  • Jamie and Lt. Knox are hunting for Murtagh.
  • The Regulators (led by Murtagh) carry out a gruesome punishment.
  • Stephen Bonnet is up to no good, as per usual.

Insta-reaction:

Well, the sweetness and light of the wedding couldn’t last long. After all, this is Outlander, so it’s back to mayhem and danger as of episode #2.

[Note: I’m probably going to keep this recap on the short side, since it’s late and I’m tired. Sorry!]

The Regulators are out for their own form of vigilante justice, and it’s gross. We’ve all probably seen cartoon versions of tarring and feathering (Road Runner, perhaps?). The real thing, involving actual hot tar and bare flesh, is really awful and disturbing. Love ya, Murtagh, but this is just terrible.

Jamie and Lieutenant Knox ride out together searching for Murtagh and the Regulators, and have some interesting conversations about duty and loyalty. Jamie is walking a fine line between his promises to the governor and his love for Murtagh. Things go bad in a hurry when the two men question the three Regulators being held in jail, and Lt. Knox kills one of them. Jamie covers it up as self-defense (although it was really murder), but Knox later uses hefty doses of rationalization to convince himself he acted honorably. Jamie later carries out a mini-jail break, freeing the other two men, who then find their way back to Murtagh and his rebels.

Back on the Ridge, a dying man is brought to Claire for help, but it’s too late. The man’s wife’s attempts to heal her husband with blood-letting and herbs end up killing him. Claire is frustrated by how powerless she is to save lives and apply her medical training. She ends up performing an autopsy on the man, which would get her killed (or accused of black magic) if she were caught, and later convinces Marsali to become her apprentice and learn about medical techniques. By the end of the episode, Claire is trying to grow her own penicillin! Bree questions whether she’s playing God, introducing 20th century medicine two centuries too early. What if she messes up the future? But Claire asserts that they (the time travelers) are changing the future every day they’re in the 18th century. She’s determined to try to make a difference in the health of the people she cares for.

Roger can’t shoot straight, and he can’t understand why Jamie would make him a captain in his militia. He asks Brianna if she wants to go back to their own time. He clearly does; she clearly doesn’t.

Like the baddest of bad pennies, Stephen Bonnet turns up in North Carolina, betting on a fight between two women. When another man takes offense and accuses Bonnet of cheating, Bonnet challenges him to a duel, and when the man yields, Bonnet blinds him. This is straight out of the book, but still. Yuck. We get it — Bonnet is the worst. And again, back on the Ridge, we see (earlier in the episode) that Brianna is still haunted by Bonnet, drawing dark and disturbing sketches of his face, over and over again. Sadly, he and the Frasers aren’t done with each other yet.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

I never really liked the Regulators storyline in the book (The Fiery Cross), and I’m not loving it here either. Unfortunately, this is the main historical focus this season, so I’ll just have to deal with it.

Some favorite moments from this episode:

  • Roger singing Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog to baby Jem. Can we please have a greatest hits of the 1960s and 1970s moment every episode?
  • Marsali carving up a deer while Claire surreptitiously checks out her knife skills.
  • Bree giving Roger a shooting lesson… and then completely one-upping him when there was actually something to shoot at.
  • Roger singing at the burial — hints of his future religious calling?

We met a few new recurring characters, including Mr. and Mrs. Bug, who will become important fixtures around Fraser’s Ridge.

Claire is taking a huge risk keeping a carved up corpse in her surgery! She never does stay out of trouble for long, does she?

As always, the look of the show is fabulous — the costumes, the homes on Fraser’s Ridge, the town, the food, the candle-making. Let’s hope the season doesn’t get too bogged down by Murtagh and the Regulators.

And furthermore…

If the whole reason for keeping TV-Murtagh alive years after book-Murtagh is long dead is to turn him into a Regulator leader, then I think Outlander has missed its mark somehow. I’m not loving seeing Murtagh in this role, and I’m not seeing a path to a good resolution of this storyline.

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The Monday Check-In ~ 2/24/2020

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.

Where did my weekend go? I want a do-over!

What did I read during the last week?

Meat Cute by Gail Carriger: An absolutely adorable novella that finally tells the story of Alexia and Connal’s first meeting and that unfortunate hedgehog incident that started it all! And if you have no idea what I’m talking about… well, this is a prequel story set in the world of the Parasol Protectorate, which is one of my very favorite series of all times!

The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, #2) by Philip Pullman: I had such mixed feelings about this book. My thoughts are here.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver: Sad but life-affirming contemporary romance. My review is here.

When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk: Moving YA novel. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs: This was a re-read for me, and I loved it all over again! And now I’m 100% ready for the new Mercy book coming next month!

Pop culture — Outlander, season 5:

We’re now two episodes into season 5 of Outlander! For past seasons, I’ve posted my reaction posts right after each new episode, but somehow Sunday nights have become extra hectic lately. So… while I’ve already watched the 2nd episode, my write-up will have to wait a day or two.

Meanwhile, from last week:

Episode 501, “The Fiery Cross” (aired 2/16/2020) – check out my thoughts here.

Fresh Catch:

One of these things is not like the others…

Oh, that sinking feeling when your book order arrives and you discover that one book in the series has different dimensions than the others. Why, book gods, why? Ah well, I’m still excited to have a bunch of Witcher books ready to enjoy.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi: Considering I bought this book about two years ago, it’s about time I finally read it.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan: I can always count on this author to lift my spirits!

Ongoing reads:

The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon: The latest in Outlander Book Club’s group read-alongs. This is yet another terrific novella set in the wider world of the Outlander series. It’s a re-read for me, and I’m enjoying it all over again.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: My book group’s newest classic read is now underway. We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk

Title: When You Were Everything
Author: Ashley Woodfolk
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

You can’t rewrite the past, but you can always choose to start again.

It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded.

Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again.

Now, Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex–best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding new friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.

Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love. 

It’s refreshing to read a contemporary YA novel where romance takes a backseat. In When You Were Everything, the focus is on friendship — or more specifically, on the end of friendship.

Few things are more traumatic for teen girls that losing a best friend. In When You Were Everything, we witness the pain and sorrow and rage that occurs when besties forever, Cleo and Layla, fall apart.

It happens the way these things do. Friends since age twelve, the girls start moving in different directions at the start of their sophomore year of high school. Layla wants more than anything to join the school chorus, and while the “Chorus Girls” adopt her right away, they have no interest in including Cleo in their elite circle.

Cleo’s feeling are hurt over and over again as Layla spends more time with her new friends than with Cleo, and small slights turn into bigger and bigger betrayals, until there’s a final and irreparable break.

Cleo is also dealing with her parents’ separation, and her new friendless status is made even worse by a stream of bullying and harassment she endures from the Chorus Girls while Layla stands by and does nothing.

Cleo is smart and driven, but she also makes some poor choices, lashing out in hurtful ways when her own feelings are hurt. And while I felt that Layla was more to blame for the friendship break-up, Cleo isn’t blameless either.

When You Were Everything is hard to read at times, specifically because it’s so relatable. My own high school years are way in the past, but Cleo’s feelings as she’s isolated and tormented ring very true, in a sadly timeless sort of way.

I enjoyed seeing how Cleo opens herself up to new friendships and learns to see what’s in front of her instead of living inside her own head so much. There’s a sweet romance too, but it’s less important than what Cleo learns about herself and about friendship.

The cast of characters is nicely diverse, and I liked the way the story includes the importance of family and the impact of parents’ and grandparents’ support, love, and involvement. Despite the sadness of the end of a friendship, the book ends on a hopeful note.

Definitely a recommended read!

Book Review: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

Title: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird
Author: Josie Silver
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: March 3, 2020
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

In this next captivating love story from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One Day in December, a young woman is reunited with her late fiancé in a parallel life. But is this happy ending the one she really wants?

Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They’d been together for more than a decade, and Lydia thought their love was indestructible.

But she was wrong. On her twenty-eighth birthday, Freddie died in a car accident.

So now it’s just Lydia, and all she wants to do is hide indoors and sob until her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to try to live fully, happily, even without him. So, enlisting the help of his best friend, Jonah, and her sister, Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world, open to life–and perhaps even love–again.

But then something inexplicable happens that gives her another chance at her old life with Freddie. A life where none of the tragic events of the past few months have happened.

Lydia is pulled again and again across the doorway of her past, living two lives, impossibly, at once. But there’s an emotional toll to returning to a world where Freddie, alive, still owns her heart. Because there’s someone in her new life, her real life, who wants her to stay.

Written with Josie Silver’s trademark warmth and wit, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a powerful and thrilling love story about the what-ifs that arise at life’s crossroads, and what happens when one woman is given a miraculous chance to answer them.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird starts with tragedy. Driving to Lydia’s birthday dinner, Freddie is in a car accident that takes his life. Lydia’s world is destroyed. She and Freddie, engaged to be married, have been together for over ten years, really ever since meeting as teens. He was her first and only love… and then suddenly, he was gone.

Lydia is left to pick up the pieces of her shattered world, and where this book excels is in its depiction of grief and loss. Lydia’s pain is not pretty or dignified — she’s a mess, and she remains a mess for a long, long time. Grief doesn’t have a timetable. There’s no quick fix or set number of months that the mourning should take. Lydia simply has to go through it, and fortunately, she has an incredibly giving and loving sister by her side every step of the way.

Lydia also has a secret: The unusual pink pills that her mother gave her to help her sleep have a decidedly odd effect: When she takes a pill and falls asleep, Lydia is pulled into a different version of her own life, one in which the accident never happened and Freddie is very much alive. Soon, Lydia is torn between her bleak waking world and the promise of escape into a world that she knows can’t be real — but it’s a world where she gets time with Freddie, gets to plan their wedding and enjoy their promised life together.

Thankfully, there’s no hint that this alternate world is a real option for Lydia. Even while experiencing this time with Freddie, she’s fully aware of what’s happened in her real life, so all the happy moments are overshadowed for her by the knowledge that Freddie isn’t really alive in her world.

Meanwhile, we spend much more time with Lydia in her waking life than asleep, which I appreciated. She has no choice but to begin the long, slow road forward without Freddie, finding a way to keep going without the love of her life.

There’s a lot to like about this book:

  • Lydia has a meaningful and rewarding job working in a community center, which hits very close to home for me and really warmed my heart. It’s refreshing to read about someone with a job that’s important but not at all corporate — a job that’s all about creating programming for the community to bring joy to other people.
  • Her mother is odd, but still supportive, and her sister Elle is the absolute best. She and her husband have Lydia’s back, fuss over her a lot, but also give her space to figure out her own life.
  • Unlike some other books I’ve read, at no point does anything negative about Freddie come to light. I’ve read too many versions of stories where the dearly departed turns out to be somewhat of an ass or a liar or in some other way not really worth the tears. Nope, not here. Even though Lydia eventually becomes open to the possibility of love again, there’s never any doubt that had Freddie lived, they would have had a happy life together.

Of course, I had some quibbles as well:

(And I suppose I should say… some of these are a little bit spoilery…)

  • The sci-fi geek in me (never too far below the surface) wants to know what was in those pink pills! Even though Lydia eventually acknowledges that maybe it was the pills and maybe it was just her brain’s way of helping her deal with her loss, my sci-fi brain wanted a real explanation! Was she in an alternate reality? Was it all in her mind? If it was all in her mind, I have to say, it was a very neatly constructed and chronologically sound set of delusions. (I would have preferred either no alternate reality story, or one that actually happens in a fully fleshed out way — again, sci-fi geek here!)
  • When Lydia picks herself up and goes off to Croatia on a moment’s notice, then stays there for nine weeks to rest and recuperate and find herself, I just could not suspend my disbelief. She goes off with no plan, happens to be approached by a cab driver who happens to have a seaside restaurant and room to rent with his wife, who happens to be smart and supportive and exactly what Lydia needs. Really? What are the odds? Because I’m willing to bet that in real life, the tourist showing up at an airport in a foreign country and trusting someone to drive her to a remote place with no hesitation… is maybe not going to return in one piece. Honestly, this piece of the story made no sense to me.
  • I’m really glad that Lydia grew and changed over the course of the book, which covers close to two years in her life — but part of how I was aware of how much she’d changed was by her constantly thinking about how much she’d changed. Um… show, don’t tell?

Quibbles, aside, I did actually enjoy this book very much, and especially appreciated how well the author conveyed Lydia’s suffering and the emotional rollercoaster she experiences during her mourning process.

You don’t get over losing someone you love in six months or two years or twenty, but you do have to find a way to carry on living without feeling as if everything that comes afterward is second best.

Lydia is flawed and human and feels real. She’s miserable and sad until, eventually, she learns to also start feeling happy again, although in a different way than before. I really liked her as a person, and felt that her journey never sugarcoated the pain of her huge loss. At some point, she finds new ways to participate in life, with her family and friends and work, and it’s pretty glorious to see Lydia find hope again after it all seems gone.

I guess I could have lived without the alternate world pieces of the story, but overall, I liked The Two Lives of Lydia Bird very much, and would happily recommend it to anyone looking for a slightly different take on love and finding meaning in life.

Shelf Control #205: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

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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: Ghost Wall
Author: Sarah Moss
Published: 2019
Length: 144 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.

For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs—particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.

The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

A story at once mythic and strikingly timely, Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall urges us to wonder how far we have come from the “primitive minds” of our ancestors.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book sometime last year, and can’t for the life of me remember when or where! Maybe I buy too many books…

Why I want to read it:

I think I must have heard about this book through someone else’s book blog. That, or it was in the window display of my favorite local bookstore on one of my visits — that’s probably pretty likely! It’s a slim book, and the title and the cover are certainly eye-catching. Beyond the look of the book, the description makes it sound really terrific and disturbing and otherworldly. I’m glad I stumbled across this book again this week, because I definitely want to read it!

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

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!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books that gave me severe book hangovers

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover.

Instead of the most recent 10, I thought I’d go with a mix of older and newer books that gave me HUGE book hangovers.

 

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Of course. This is a world I entered and never wanted to leave. And maybe that accounts for how many times I’ve reread the series!

2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell: Another I’ve reread multiple times. And no matter how many times I read it, it still packs a punch.

3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: Don’t laugh!! It makes me cringe now, but thinking back to the early days of Twilight mania, as soon as I finished this book, I started it over again from the beginning, because I was on a trip, didn’t have New Moon with me, and couldn’t even think about reading anything else but this book, over and over again!

4. The Newsflesh series by Mira Grant: Honestly, I just could not get these books out of my mind. Once I started, I couldn’t stop until I’d read all the books and stories. Amazing!

5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Another one that I had to start over from the beginning as soon as I finished reading it.

6. A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers: This book hasn’t even been released yet! It’s coming soon (early March — don’t miss out!), and I hope it’s a big success. I have not been able to get the story out of my head since finishing it. (Check out my review, if you’re interested!)

7. Our War by Craig DiLouie: Ooh boy, this book was devastating and disturbing, and with everything going on in our country these days, it’s no wonder that I find myself flashing back to scenes from this book.

8. The Pact by Jodi Picoult: This was the first book I ever read by Jodi Picoult, and it just about killed me. I couldn’t not shake this book off for a long, long time.

9. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: Man, this book made me ugly cry so hard. I’m still not over it.

10. All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson: I loved the characters, the setting, and the plot itself, and just wanted more and more when it was done.

What books have left you with book hangovers?

Please share your thoughts, and if you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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Book Review: The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, #2) by Philip Pullman

Title: The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, #2)
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 3, 2019
Length: 641 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Purchased

⭐⭐⭐

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .

The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.

Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.

How to describe this long, strange book, set in the world of His Dark Materials?

The Secret Commonwealth is very much a middle book. It’s packed with details and characters, most of whom are people on a journey or quest. There’s a lot of travel from here to there… but we leave off before anyone actually arrives at their destinations.

In La Belle Sauvage, the installment in The Book of Dust that precedes The Secret Commonwealth, we see Lyra as an infant. She’s the object of hot pursuit by nefarious agents of the Magisterium, the ruling religious entity, and a person to be protected by an assortment of good guys and heroes, chief among them young Malcolm Polstead, an 11-year-old boy with unflinching bravery and a very steady canoe.

Here, we re-meet Lyra at age 20. She’s a student at St. Sophia’s, and still lives at Jordan College, the Oxford college where she’s been sheltered under rules of scholastic sanctuary since infancy. Lyra’s life is difficult as the story opens. Her comfortable home at Jordan is no longer a safe place for her, the money supporting her has run out, and shady characters are once again intent on tracking her down.

Closer to home, Lyra and her beloved daemon Pantalaimon are not getting along, which is a huge deal, considering that daemons are the external representation of a person’s soul. Daemon and human are two halves of one whole; neither is complete without the other. It’s almost beyond imagining that Lyra and Pan should be so estranged. Pan believes that Lyra has come too deeply under the influence of literary and scholarly works that prize only what’s real and can be seen, discounting completely the value or even existence of subtlety, imagination, and unseen forces and worlds.

Meanwhile, there’s a movement behind the scenes within the Magisterium to consolidate power even further, pushing toward total religious authoritarianism, leading to fear, civil unrest, and a growing flood of refugees throughout Europe. There’s also a quest by the Magisterium to root out a particular type of rose oil that’s believed to have certain properties that are considered threatening and heretical, and the efforts to wipe out all roses is being conducted by force.

As Lyra is forced into a quest across Europe and into the Eastern lands, she faces incredible danger and constant pursuit, meeting some allies and encountering enemies of all sorts. We also see events through Pan’s perspective, as well as accompanying Malcolm and others on their own strange and dangerous journeys.

It’s a little hard to figure out just who the intended audience of this book is. It’s clearly a youth-oriented book, based on the publisher and where it fits into the greater world of His Dark Materials, but this book is different. For starters, it’s the first novel in either series with no children as characters. Lyra, at age 20, is the youngest, and she’s truly a young woman and not a girl any longer.

More than that, though, is the tone and feel of the book. This book is DARK. Really bad things happen. This rarely feels like fantasy-level danger, with mystical forces or supernatural threats. The danger in The Secret Commonwealth is from people, and it’s awful. Lyra suffers through terrible ordeals, and so do many of the other characters in the book.

The pieces that are revealed about human/daemon connections and certain things that can happen (being deliberately vague here) are pretty horrible too, and are really startling in the context of the series as a whole.

Finally, the Lyra/Pan relationship and where it is in The Secret Commonwealth is heartbreaking and demoralizing. There’s really no ray of sunshine in this book whatsoever.

I suppose that the bleakness of the story is appropriate to the political conditions of Lyra’s world, but it makes for a pretty dismal reading experience. Philip Pullman is masterful as always, and I do love the world he’s created.

However, The Secret Commonwealth is so unrelentingly dark and full of misery that it’s hard to consider it an enjoyable read at all. After 600+ pages, it ends more or less on a cliffhanger, with all threads still to be resolved. The book is building toward something, and I hope the final book in the trilogy is successful in tying it all together and, hopefully, bringing back a little of Lyra’s fire and optimism.

I will absolutely want to read the 3rd and final book in The Book of Dust, and hope the conclusion will make all the suffering of the 2nd book worthwhile. Meanwhile, The Secret Commonwealth has left me feeling sad, upset, and worried about Lyra, and that’s not a fun way to be left hanging.