Book Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish

Title: The Holiday Trap
Author: Roan Parrish
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: September 6, 2022
Length: 442 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

For fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Alexis Hall comes a charming, hilarious, and heartwarming LGBTQIA+ romcom about two separate couples finding love over the holidays from acclaimed author Roan Parrish!

Greta Russakoff loves her tight-knit family and tiny Maine hometown, even if they don’t always understand what it’s like to be a lesbian living in such a small world. She desperately needs space to figure out who she is.

Truman Belvedere has just had his heart crushed into a million pieces when he learned that his boyfriend of almost a year has a secret life that includes a husband and a daughter. Reeling from this discovery, all he wants is a place to lick his wounds far, far away from New Orleans.

Enter Greta and Truman’s mutual friend, Ramona, who facilitates a month-long house swap. Over the winter holidays, each of them will have a chance to try on a new life…and maybe fall in love with the perfect partner of their dreams. But all holidays must come to an end, and eventually Greta and Truman will have to decide whether the love they each found so far from home is worth fighting for.

The Holiday Trap has some cute moments, but is far too long and has way too many implausible plot points and annoying characters moments to rise above a 3-star read.

Our two main characters, Greta and Truman, are stuck in lives that clearly aren’t working for them. Greta’s large family is smothering and overly involved and controlling, and living on an island in Maine, there’s really no escaping their endless interference. Truman thinks his life in New Orleans is going well, until he discovers that his boyfriend of one year actually has a family, and Truman is just the bit on the side.

When a mutual friend suggests that they swap places for the holidays, Greta and Truman both agree — because really, it couldn’t be any worse than their current situations. And of course, in their new locations, they each find exactly what they’re looking for — love, community, and purpose.

Greta falls immediately in love with an outspoken, quirky woman who demands honesty and teaches Greta about stating one’s own needs and listening to others. She also finds meaning through a local gardening club, and becomes involved with a community garden and the beekeepers she meets.

Truman arrives on the island with low expectations, but soon discovers that his very favorite author may once have lived there, and then stumbles across the man of his dreams at the local florist shop.

For both, true love seems to arrive within approximately three weeks, so that before their brief swap agreement is even over, they’ve both resolved to make it permanent and start their lives over in their new locations. They’ve also changed themselves in significant ways, learning to speak up and pay attention to what they really want and what makes them happy.

Also (and annoyingly) in this brief time, they find themselves overflowing with amazing new ideas for how to improve their friends’ business ventures, which the friends seem to appreciate and embrace. (If I were in any of the friends’ shoes, I would find this intrusive and presumptuous AF, but hey, maybe that’s just me).

There are sweet interludes and funny moments, but overall, this romance drags on, has too many personal epiphanies crammed into such a short amount of time, and takes its perfect romances far over the edge into not-at-all-believable territory. And the fact that Greta and Truman seem to always have the perfect idea that perfectly solves other people’s challenges… so incredibly annoying.

I’m not sure why this is called The Holiday Trap. It’s not especially about the holidays, other than taking place during December when holidays are happening, and I have no idea what “trap” has to do with anything. Nobody ends up trapped in their new locations or relationships. May The Holiday Swap was already taken?

In terms of steaminess, this book’s sex scenes are graphic, so be aware of that if you prefer understated steam rather than outright step-by-step descriptions of intimate encounters.

Overall, the plot really doesn’t hold up particularly well. Truman is an endearing character and Greta is okay, but their huge personal awakenings and finding of soulmates just don’t feel plausible. The Holiday Trap is good entertainment, but I’ve read a lot better.

Audiobook Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3) by Becky Chamber

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few
Series: Wayfarers, #3
Author: Becky Chambers
Narrator:  Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication date: July 24, 2018
Print length: 368 pages
Audio length: 11 hours, 36 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Brimming with Chambers’ signature blend of heart-warming character relationships and dazzling adventure, Record of a Spaceborn few is the third standalone installment of the Wayfarers series, set in the sprawling universe of the Galactic Commons, and following a new motley crew on a journey to another corner corner of the cosmos—one often mentioned, but not yet explored.

Return to the sprawling universe of the Galactic Commons, as humans, artificial intelligence, aliens, and some beings yet undiscovered explore what it means to be a community in this exciting third adventure in the acclaimed and multi-award-nominated science fiction Wayfarers series, brimming with heartwarming characters and dazzling space adventure.

Hundreds of years ago, the last humans on Earth boarded the Exodus Fleet in search of a new home among the stars. After centuries spent wandering empty space, their descendants were eventually accepted by the well-established species that govern the Milky Way.

But that was long ago. Today, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, the birthplace of many, yet a place few outsiders have ever visited. While the Exodans take great pride in their original community and traditions, their culture has been influenced by others beyond their bulkheads. As many Exodans leave for alien cities or terrestrial colonies, those who remain are left to ponder their own lives and futures: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination? Why remain in space when there are habitable worlds available to live? What is the price of sustaining their carefully balanced way of life—and is it worth saving at all?

A young apprentice, a lifelong spacer with young children, a planet-raised traveler, an alien academic, a caretaker for the dead, and an Archivist whose mission is to ensure no one’s story is forgotten, wrestle with these profound universal questions. The answers may seem small on the galactic scale, but to these individuals, it could mean everything.

Argh… again with a misleading synopsis blurb! Why does whoever writes things keep coming back to a “motley crew”? That is SO not what this book is about! Anyway…

Record of a Spaceborn Few is the 3rd installment in the fabulous Wayfarers series, and it leaves me in absolute awe of author Becky Chambers and her vision of this sprawling fictional world. Here, she moves the story to a place we’ve heard about but not seen — the Exodan Fleet.

Many generations earlier, humans left Earth as it became uninhabitable, creating a fleet of homesteader ships that headed out into the galaxy with no idea of an endpoint or destination. Eventually, the human fleet encountered other sapient species, much more advanced in technology and in the social complexities of cross-species relations. After some time, the humans were accepted into the Galactic Commons (kind of like a UN for alien species), and many of the humans of the fleet sought out new homes on already established worlds or set out to colonize new human habitations on unsettled planets.

Not all, though. Many remained with the fleet, where their ancestors had lived already for centuries. Among the ships of the fleet, a shared community of sustainability, common interest, respect for the past, and well-ordered social expectations had been built over time. For the Exodans who stayed with the fleet, they were no longer on a journey — the fleet was home.

Within this setting, we follow the lives of several very different characters — some lifelong residents of the Asteria homesteader ship, some newcomers, some alien visitors. Through each, we learn more about Exodan life, their rituals, their beliefs, and the reality of their day-to-day.

The action starts with an unprecedented tragedy — one of the Exodan ships is destroyed in a freak accident. For the rest of the fleet, this is not only a human tragedy with countless deaths, but also a stark reminder of the potential danger and precariousness of their own homes. As the story moves forward, we see the ripple effect on the different characters, some of whom question their commitment to the fleet and wonder about other options, and some of whom reinvest in making sure that the fleet society has a future.

It’s all quite fascinating. In some ways, life in the fleet reminds me of a traditional kibbutz — communal life, with all jobs valued, each giving back to the community through labor, with shared communal living spaces balanced with family spaces, and a shared responsibility for daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. I was also intrigued by the deeply ingrained ethos of reusing and repurposing. When resources are scarce and the world is a closed system, everything serves a purpose, and nothing can be wasted.

The characters themselves are unique individuals, each with their own interesting lives and sets of joys and worries. These include an archivist, who tends the collective memories of the fleet; a newcomer seeking new meaning after growing up planetside and without connections; a caregiver whose job is to lovingly tend the dead through carefully established rituals; an alien sociologist spending time on the Asteria to study this example of human society, and a teen who isn’t sure where he’s meant to be or what his purpose is. They’re all wonderful, and I can’t say there was any one storyline I preferred over the others.

Record of a Spaceborn Few is loosely connected to the first book in the series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, as one of the characters is the sibling of the ship captain from the 1st book. Otherwise, this is a stand-alone story within a shared universe. I love how each book in the series opens up a new aspect of life within this fictional universe, broadening our understanding of what life is like for these future humans — among the stars, on a planet, or on a homesteader ship.

While these books are science fiction, there are no raging space battles or chases or high-tech weaponry. The series is about a society, about what it’s like to live in a galaxy where one’s own species is both a novelty and a minority, dependent on the tolerance and generosity of others species. The characters we meet, the choices they make and the dilemmas they face, are far more important to the overall tone and themes of the books than the details of water recycling, propulsion system, or the mechanics of keeping a spaceship working for centuries.

It’s all fascinating, and a remarkable creation. I’ve been listening to the audiobooks — narrator Rachel Delude gives an incredible performance, voicing so many different characters, keeping them distinct and identifiable, and bringing emotion and humor whenever needed. It’s been a terrific listening experience.

I can’t recommend this series strongly enough! Each book is a delight, and each one adds new dimensions to our understanding of the world of the series.

Next in the series: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

I have one book left in the series — The Galaxy, and the Ground Within — and can’t wait to keep going (although I’ll be sad to finish). After hearing about this series for so long, I’m so glad that I finally made it a point to dig in! I’m just sorry that it took me so long.

Book Review: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (Classics Club Spin #32)

Title: O Pioneers!
Author: Willa Cather
Publication date: 1913
Length: 159 pages (Kindle edition)
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis (Goodreads):

O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself.

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels, O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

And from Wikipedia:

O Pioneers! is a 1913 novel by American author Willa Cather, written while she was living in New York. It was her second published novel. The title is a reference to a poem by Walt Whitman entitled “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” from Leaves of Grass (1855).

O Pioneers! tells the story of the Bergsons, a family of Swedish-American immigrants in the farm country near the fictional town of Hanover, Nebraska, at the turn of the 20th century. The main character, Alexandra Bergson, inherits the family farmland when her father dies, and she devotes her life to making the farm a viable enterprise at a time when many other immigrant families are giving up and leaving the prairie. The novel is also concerned with two romantic relationships, one between Alexandra and family friend Carl Linstrum and the other between Alexandra’s brother Emil and the married Marie Shabata.

O Pioneers! is my most recent Classics Club Spin book, and once again, it’s been a great experience getting that little push to read a book that I might have missed out on otherwise.

Prior to O Pioneers!, the only work of Willa Cather’s that I’ve read was My Antonia, which I read once during high school and again more recently when I came across a copy at a library sale. I loved Cather’s writing style and the sense of beauty that comes through her descriptive passages, and I’ve always meant to seek out more of her books.

O Pioneers! centers on Alexandra Bergson, whom we first meet as a young woman. From the earliest chapters, we understand that she’s the backbone of her family. Her parents arrived on the Nebraska plains years earlier as immigrants, struggling to establish a home and a livelihood in harsh conditions. As the book opens, Alexandra’s father is dying. While she has three brothers — two teens and five-year-old Emil — her father’s dying instructions are clear:

“Boys,” said the father wearily, “I want you to keep the land together and to be guided by your sister… I want no quarrels among my children, and so long as there is one house there must be one head. Alexandra is the oldest, and she knows my wishes. She will do the best she can. If she makes mistakes, she will not make so many as I have made.”

As the book continues, we see Alexandra doing what no one else in the family can. She keeps the farm going, but not only that — she’s determined to do more than scratch by. She learns, thinks, and grows, and despite her brothers’ objection to what they see as risky ventures, Alexandra uses her wits and strategic planning to acquire more land, invest, and ultimately succeed in becoming one of the best established farmers and landowners in the region.

Of course, the older brothers aren’t always content to abide by Alexandra’s decisions. Rather dull-minded and resentful of hard work, they still uphold the manly tradition of being sexist jerks when it comes to their sister:

Oscar reinforced his brother, his mind fixed on the one point he could see. “The property of a family belongs to the men of the family, because they are held responsible, and because they do the work.” Alexandra looked from one to the other, her eyes full of indignation. She had been impatient before, but now she was beginning to feel angry. “And what about my work?” she asked in an unsteady voice.

[…]

Lou turned to Oscar. “That’s the woman of it; if she tells you to put in a crop, she thinks she’s put it in. It makes women conceited to meddle in business.”

Success takes a toll, as Alexandra remains largely alone. She has friends and neighbors and community, and while she seems content with her life, she’s never pursued romantic love of any sort. As she moves through her adult years, she’s devoted to Emil, now a young man, envisioning herself making a future and inheritance for him. Emil, though, like many young people raised on the plains, doesn’t necessarily want a life as a farmer — he attends college, travels, and seems to have a myriad of options available to him. Ultimately, though, a passionate love affair threatens his and Alexandra’s dreams for his future.

O Pioneers! covers about 20 years of the family’s lives, and we see how time changes them all. Through it all, Alexandra remains the steady, devoted head of the family and keeper of the land, and it’s only a tragedy near the end of the story that forces more extreme change upon her.

The writing in O Pioneers! is simply lovely. Willa Cather’s words are spare, but evocative. From her descriptions of the land itself to her illustration of the characters’ lives and thoughts, the words she uses bring the people and place to life.

ONE JANUARY DAY, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.

But this land was an enigma. It was like a horse that no one knows how to break to harness, that runs wild and kicks things to pieces.

He best expressed his preference for his wild homestead by saying that his Bible seemed truer to him there. If one stood in the doorway of his cave, and looked off at the rough land, the smiling sky, the curly grass white in the hot sunlight; if one listened to the rapturous song of the lark, the drumming of the quail, the burr of the locust against that vast silence, one understood what Ivar meant.

A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.

But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.

The dawn in the east looked like the light from some great fire that was burning under the edge of the world.

One could easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and fruitfulness were extinct forever.

Other versions of O Pioneers!:

As far as I could discover, there’s been just one O Pioneers! film adaptation — a 1992 made-for-TV movie starring Jessica Lange and David Strathairn. I have no idea if it’s easily available, but I’d love to check it out!

Wrapping it all up:

I’m so happy to have finally read this beautiful, powerful book. Many thanks to the Classics Club for inspiring me to read O Pioneers! and other classics!

Can’t wait for the next CCSpin!

Book Review: Lost in the Moment and Found (Wayward Children, #8) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Lost in the Moment and Found
Series: Wayward Children, #8
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 10, 2023
Length: 160 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young girl discovers an infinite variety of worlds in this standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Wayward Children series from Seanan McGuire, Lost in the Moment and Found.

Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.

If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here.
If you ever wondered about favorite toy from childhood… it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back.
And the headphones that you swore that this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it….

Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds.

And stepping through those doors exacts a price.

Lost in the Moment and Found tells us that childhood and innocence, once lost, can never be found.

You might wonder whether, by the 8th book in a series, an author might run out of fresh stories to tell.

If the author is Seanan McGuire, then the answer is — not a chance! In Lost in the Moment and Found, she puts a fresh spin on the ongoing Wayward Children series, once again moving the focus to a completely new character in a completely new circumstance.

While all the Wayward Children books feature children who’ve had lousy childhoods in one way or another, the circumstances here are particularly awful — enough so that the author includes a note prior to the opening of the story:

While all the Wayward Children books have dealt with heavy themes and childhood traumas, this one addresses an all-too-familiar monster: the one that lives in your own home. Themes of grooming and adult gaslighting are present in the early text. As a survivor of something very similar, I would not want to be surprised by these elements where I didn’t expect them.

I just want to offer you this reassurance: Antsy runs. Before anything can actually happen, Antsy runs.

I have to say, I very much appreciated the warning. While the sense of dread builds in the early part of the book, at least I could proceed without fearing the absolute worst. And as the author promises, the main character, Antsy, does in fact run. When her fear and sense of isolation and lack of support gets to the point that she can no longer stand it, she finds a way out and escapes.

… as she got older, she would come to think that the ability to cry was the third thing she’d lost in a single day.

Antsy, at age six, a year after a terrible loss, gains a stepfather whom she never wanted, but she hopes her mother’s happiness will allow her to feel happy too. It doesn’t work that way. Her sense of wrongness and unease whenever she’s around her stepfather only continues to grow. He’s insidious, undermining Antsy in small ways through lies and contradictions, so that Antsy knows that if she goes to her mother with her big worries, she won’t be believed. It’s utterly heartbreaking.

When Antsy finally does reach her breaking point and runs away, she ends up at a strange little thrift shop that she never noticed before, with the words “Be Sure” written over the door frame. Once inside, the door she entered through disappears, and Antsy finds herself in a new home with an odd elderly woman and a talking magpie as companions.

As she stays in this store, she discovers new doors leading to new worlds, where she meets all sorts of strange and fascinating people and brings back more goods for the infinite shelves of the store she lives in. And for a long time, she forgets that there’s anything else out there and doesn’t think to question certain very odd occurrences…

Eventually, Antsy realizes that there’s a steep price to be paid for all the miraculous new worlds she visits — and that she may run out of options sooner than expected. The ending is moving and fitting, very sad, but with a small sliver of hope too.

Yes, I’m being vague!

As in all the Wayward Children books, the writing is simply gorgeous. These stories are never just straight-forward action — there’s a sense of mythic scope embedded in the descriptions of sad, lost children, and loss permeates so much of the storytelling.

The toll of childhood trauma becomes literal here: Antsy’s loss of safety and innocence leads to her new reality in the strange world of endless doors and lost things:

She should have had a childhood, ice cream and matinees and sunshine and cookies, not working in a dusty shop while she grew up faster than she should have been able to, rocketing toward adulthood, spending hours she’d never be able to recover! She should have had time. It was hers, and she had never agreed to give it away.

Antsy’s story is particularly tragic — obviously, no small child should ever have to doubt whether the one person they count on will actually believe them when they speak up. We can cheer Antsy on as she saves herself, but still, we can’t avoid mourning her shattered childhood and sense of faith in family and love.

The Wayward Children books include beautiful drawings by the very talented Rovina Cai. See more at https://www.rovinacai.com/portfolio/wayward-children-series/

As a whole, the Wayward Children series is beautiful, sad, emotional, and full of heartache and redemption. There’s hope and joy to offset the sorrow, but an undercurrent of sadness never quite leaves the stories or their characters.

I love the series, and I’m so happy that Lost in the Moment and Found lives up to my (very high) expectations. Please do start from the beginning if you haven’t read any of these yet! Each book is novella -length, but don’t rush through them — the lovely writing should be savored.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2023

snowy10

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 Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2023.

There are plenty to choose from — but here are ten I’m really excited for:

  1. Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie (1/24)
  2. Lessons at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan (3/7)
  3. Backpacking Through Bedlam (Incryptids, #12) by Seanan McGuire (3/7)
  4. A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher (3/28)
  5. The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth (4/4)
  6. Said No One Ever by Stephanie Eding (4/4)
  7. Not the Ones Dead (Kate Shugak, #23) by Dana Stabenow (4/13)
  8. In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune (4/25)
  9. Happy Place by Emily Henry (4/25)
  10. Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan (5/2)

What new releases are you most looking forward to over the next six months? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

The Monday Check-In ~ 1/9/2023

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.

This week really flew by! We had huge rainstorms pretty much all week, and even lost power one particularly blustery night. Luckily, today was a mostly sunny day — first day without rain all week! — so I was able to finally enjoy being outdoors. More rain on the way starting tomorrow and all the way through next weekend…

A blogging update:

As I shared last week, I’ve made the decision to step back from my weekly Shelf Control meme. After 7 years and 347 books, I reached the point where I felt like giving myself a break from ongoing commitments, including this one

BUT — Shelf Control is not going away! I’m happy to announce that Mallika at Literary Potpourri has graciously agreed to become the new host. Please join Mallika on Wednesdays to celebrate our unread books (and maybe even commit to reading them!).

What did I read during the last week?

Poster Girl by Veronica Roth: A look at what’s left after the overthrow of a dystopian society. Unique and absorbing — my review is here.

Beyond the Wand by Tom Felton: I loved this audiobook memoir by the actor who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. My review is here.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather: My Classics Club spin book! I just finished over the weekend; review to follow.

Pop culture & TV:

I binge-watched Kindred (Hulu) this week — it’s so good! I loved the Octavia Butler novel (in fact, I think it was the first Octavia Butler book I ever read). The TV series changes some key elements, but the overall storyline follows much of the book’s main themes and plot points. Definitely worth checking out!

I’m also really loving 1923 (Paramount+). I mean, Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren on my TV screen? In an earlier generation of the Yellowstone family? What’s not to love?

Puzzles of the week:

A gorgeous Eeboo puzzle!

This was a tough one! So many tiny details… so many cactus spines! I was totally impressed with myself by the time I finished. (Sorry — once again, I need to point out that this puzzle is much prettier in real life. My lighting and photo abilities are not great).

Fresh Catch:

Two new purchased books, plus one from the library:

I’m especially excited for The Stolen Heir, but I’m looking forward to reading all three.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire: The 8th book in the excellent Wayward Children series. Loving it so far — I’ll probably finish later tonight.

Now playing via audiobook:

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3) by Becky Chambers. Back to the Wayfarers series! I probably should have started my next book group book this week… but my library request for this book just came in, and I couldn’t resist.

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. Coming up this week: Chapters 90 and 91 (of 155).
  • An Immense World by Ed Yong: An interesting science book, but sometimes a little too heavy on the technical details. I’m trying to read this in steady little chunks, since I’m not very good at reading non-fiction straight through. I’m not sure I’ll make it all the way to the end, but for now, I’m sticking with it. Progress so far: page 115/464
  • Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year by Allie Esiri: Just what the title promises! Shakespeare selections for each day, and my plan is to keep up, all year long!

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Audiobook Review: Beyond the Wand: The Magic & Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard by Tom Felton

Title: Beyond the Wand: The Magic & Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard
Author: Tom Felton
Narrator: Tom Felton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: October 18, 2022
Print length: 286 pages
Audio length: 6 hours, 36 minutes
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

They called for a break, and Gambon magicked up a cigarette from out of his beard. He and I were often to be found outside the stage door, having ‘a breath of fresh air’, as we referred to it. There would be painters and plasterers and chippies and sparks, and among them all would be me and Dumbledore having a crafty cigarette.

From Borrower to wizard, Tom Felton’s adolescence was anything but ordinary. His early rise to fame saw him catapulted into the limelight aged just twelve when he landed the iconic role of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.

Speaking with candour and his own trademark humour, Tom shares his experience of growing up on screen and as part of the wizarding world for the very first time. He tells all about his big break, what filming was really like and the lasting friendships he made during ten years as part of the franchise, as well as the highs and lows of fame and the reality of navigating adult life after filming finished.

Prepare to meet a real-life wizard.

Draco speaks!

In Beyond the Wand, actor Tom Felton shares stories from his early childhood, the Potter years, and beyond. Unlike some of the seriously dire and disturbing celebrity memoirs of the past year, Beyond the Wand is a mostly upbeat, light-hearted romp through the life of an actor whose professional work will forever be defined by the sneering Slytherin he portrayed so well.

Significantly younger than his three older brothers, Tom grew up with a healthy dose of love and fun, but also humility — his brothers were always happy to cut him down to size before celebrity could go to his head. After roles in two smaller films, Tom’s life changed forever when he was cast as Draco Malfoy… without ever having read the Harry Potter books. (His description of the audition scene, where he had to fake knowledge of the story — and failed — is very funny).

His descriptions of the early years of filming are sweet, humorous, and eye-opening. There’s nothing scandalous here, don’t worry! Tom shares stories of on-set experiences, filming challenges, and lots of fun little stories — for example, his grandfather, acting as Tom’s required on-set chaperone, had such an impressive white beard that director Chris Columbus ended up casting him as a Hogwarts professor!

Because Draco was a lower-profile character than the big three of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, Tom’s profile as a star was somewhat lower-key as well. And because he had fewer scenes over all, he was able to continue attending his Muggle school in between filming, which he credits with enabling him to have a semi-normal childhood. Yes, he had a lead role in one of the biggest movie franchises ever, but he also had regular school, friends, and older brothers to keep him grounded (and occasionally get him into trouble as well).

The tone of Beyond the Wand is light and funny. Listening to the audiobook is a pleasure — he narrates his own story, and speaks it all as if he were hanging out with you and telling stories. It feels accessible and personal, and he injects a sense of fun into it all.

One of the elements I really appreciated in Beyond the Wand was Tom’s depiction of the older cast of Harry Potter and their influence on him and his child co-stars. As he describes, walking onto set as a 12-year-old, he had no idea of the stature of the adult cast members. And yet, over time, he came to realize just how fortunate he was to act alongside actors such as Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and Alan Rickman. He shares plenty of lovely anecdotes about their interactions with the children, their influence, and their generosity, and he also pays loving tribute to the cast members no longer with us, which is quite touching.

It’s only in the last couple of chapters that we get to anything darker, as he describes his post-Potter Hollywood years, his sense of loss of direction, a brief period of alcohol abuse, and struggles with mental health. The focus is mostly on the positive, though — on the importance of being able to get help without shame, and the value he’s found in seeking treatment when needed.

Other than those chapters, the tone is very fun and full of larks, and overall, Beyond the Wand is a really enjoyable listen. Even for huge Potter fans, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes tidbits shared here that will be new and fresh. (Nothing scandalous — it’s all good fun, with a sense of Tom’s enjoyment at being a bit of a rascal.)

This would be a great gift for any adult who grew up on Potter. Tom Felton presents his story with humor and modesty, as well as deep appreciation for the experiences he’s had and the people he’s worked with. He comes across as very human and not overly impressed with his own celebrity — it’s a friendly, chummy memoir about a boy who ended up following a very unusual path. Lots of fun — definitely recommended.

Book Review: Poster Girl by Veronica Roth

Title: Poster Girl
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: October 18, 2022
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Science fiction/dystopian
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WHAT’S RIGHT IS RIGHT.

Sonya Kantor knows this slogan–she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past–and her family’s dark secrets–than she ever wanted to.

With razor sharp prose, Poster Girl is a haunting dystopian mystery that explores the expanding role of surveillance on society–an inescapable reality that we welcome all too easily.

Most of the YA dystopian novels I’ve read follow a similar story arc. We learn about the society and all the ways in which it’s awful, we follow a plucky hero as they work to overthrow the government, and we end with a victory.

But what happens after the victory? When the bad guys are toppled from power, what takes their place? And what happens to the many people who lived under the old regime — not major evil-doers, but those who, one way or another, ended up on the wrong side of history?

In Poster Girl, marketed as an adult novel rather than YA, author Veronica Roth shows us one particular post-dystopian world. We meet Sonya Kantor, daughter of an influential figure within the Delegation, the toppled autocratic government. Sonya herself was deemed “mediocre” by the Delegation and never did anything considered particularly important… until her father asked her if she’d like to be featured on an official Delegation poster. Ten years after the Delegation’s demise, Sonya is still known as Poster Girl — and nobody means that as a good thing anymore.

Sonya is imprisoned in the Aperture, a former block of apartment buildings heading slowly toward decay, now a prison for people associated with the Delegation (but not having done anything quite heinous enough to get sent to a more formal prison, or worse). The outside world seems content to let the residents of the Aperture fade away, in shoddy living conditions and inadequate food, and absolutely no hope of anything other than remaining there until they eventually die.

But when a new policy comes into effect by which Children of the Delegation — those imprisoned while minors — can be freed, Sonya remains just the wrong side of the age cut-off. Initially imprisoned at seventeen, she’s now 27 and just a teeny bit too old to qualify for release… until a former acquaintance offers her a too-good-to-be-true deal: Find a long-missing child on behalf of the Triumvirate, the new governing body, and she’ll earn her freedom at last.

As Poster Girl moves forward, we see Sonya navigate the changed city outside the Aperture’s walls, learning what has changed (and what hasn’t) in the years of her incarceration. It’s hard to hope, but harder to walk away, even though the idea of freedom doesn’t necessarily offer her any promise of happiness. With no family or friends on the outside, what could possibly await her?

I found Sonya’s challenge to be quite intriguing. She’s not a straight-forward hero. She’s done some lousy things in her past, blithely went along with the Delegation’s rules, victimized others for her own benefit. And yet, the prospect of a hopeless life within the Aperture makes Sonya sympathetic. Despite her past, she’s clearly trying to help others in her present, and her complicated mix of guilt and remorse make her an interesting character, morally grey, but trying and hoping to be better.

For me, this look into a post-dystopian world presented a unique take on a disjointed imagined future. As I mentioned earlier, I’m used to dystopian fiction that ends right after the victory. Hurray, the evil government has been overthrown! But the question of what comes next presents more nuanced questions to consider. Is the replacement government truly better? What’s life like for average people in the new society? Are people better off? Who determines which people end up on the right side of history?

Poster Girl features fascinating characters in a thought-provoking situation. While some of the action and investigation sequences felt a little unrealistic, overall, I thought the storyline was well written. Fast-paced and never dull, Poster Girl is well worth the read!

Shelf Control: Changes & New Beginnings

Shelves final

New year, new beginnings, new decisions, new directions…

I’m writing to announce a change here at Bookshelf Fantasies — specifically, about my Shelf Control weekly posts.

Back in 2015, I created Shelf Control and invited others to participate as well:

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!

Over the past seven years, I’ve featured 347 books from my shelves. I’ve been joined by wonderful participants, all book bloggers sharing their own variety of featured books. It’s been so much fun sharing and exchanging ideas, reading plans, and insights!

This past year, I’ve noticed that hosting a weekly book blog meme has occasionally started to feel more like an obligation and less like pure enjoyment. I’ve written in the past about my strong belief that book blogging should be a source of fun and happiness, and if it ever starts to feel like work, then I should reconsider what I’m doing. I still love the idea of Shelf Control, but I think it’s about time for me to cut back on commitments and just post when the inspiration strikes.

For that reason, it’s time for me to pass the reins to a new host!

I’m delighted to announce that Mallika at Literary Potpourri will be “adopting” the Shelf Control meme and will become its new host! Mallika has been the most involved participant in Shelf Control over the years, and her book selections are always fascinating.

I’ll still participate in the meme, but I love the idea of contributing now and then, rather than feeling forced to find a new book to feature week in and week out. So, look for my posts… just not necessarily every week.

Thank you to one and all who’ve participated by sharing your own Shelf Control posts and/or commenting on mine! Your thoughts, comments, and insights have meant so much to me.

Please join me in thanking Mallika for taking over Shelf Control, and please check in at Literary Potpourri for future Shelf Control posts!

Happy New Year!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Reading goals: Series to read in 2023

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2023 brings joy and health for one and all!

As is my annual tradition, rather than setting a bunch of reading goals that I probably won’t actually try to achieve, I prefer to limit my bookish goals to series reading. There are so many series out there that I want to get to!

I absolutely recognize that I may end up changing my mind on some or all of these, but as of now…

My priority series to read in 2023 will be:

A bunch of carry-overs from 2022:

Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky: I own two of these books, and the 3rd comes out in January. I meant to at least start these last year… hoping to do better this year!

The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir: Another carry-over. I’ve read the first book (Gideon the Ninth), and have books 2 & 3 on my shelves, ready to go!

Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers – I finished the first two in 2022, and definitely plan to read the remaining two ASAP.

The Lady Janies series by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows: I read My Lady Jane in 2022, and want to read the next two in 2023.

Plus, some new additions to the list — series to start (and maybe even finish!) in 2023:

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon: My daughter recommended these to me, and so far, I haven’t had any romance series on my annual series lists.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: This is an older fantasy series that I really should have read by this point in my life! I read the first book years ago with one of my kids, but I think it’s about time that I give the series a shot, just for me.

Regency Faerie Tales by Olivia Atwater: This series slipped past my radar, but then I started seeing a lot of positive reviews. I think I need to give these books a try.

And finally…

A couple of series that I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while now. Who knows? Maybe 2023 will finally be the year that I give them a try. My “maybe” series for this year are:

  • The Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn
  • Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny

Are you planning to start any new series this year? If you’ve read any of the series on my list for 2023, please let me know what you thought and if you have any recommendations!