Put this on your nightstand: Gmorning, Gnight! by Lin-Manuel Miranda, illustrated by Jonny Sun

From the creator and star of Hamilton, with beautiful illustrations by Jonny Sun, comes a book of affirmations to inspire readers at the beginning and end of each day.

Good morning. Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!

Before he inspired the world with Hamilton and was catapulted to international fame, Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspiring his Twitter followers with words of encouragement at the beginning and end of each day. He wrote these original sayings, aphorisms, and poetry for himself as much as for others. But as Miranda’s audience grew, these messages took on a life on their own. Now, at the request of countless fans, Miranda has gathered the best of his daily greetings into a beautiful collection illustrated by acclaimed artist (and fellow Twitter favorite) Jonny Sun. Full of comfort and motivation, Gmorning, Gnight! is a touchstone for anyone looking for a lift.

Sometimes it’s nice to give yourself a little treat… and so I did! I bought myself a copy of Gmorning, Gnight! a few months ago, and finally cracked the cover and started reading it.

And was totally charmed.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s introduction explains the genesis of this sweet book:

I’m really quite hooked on the Twitter,
They should take my phone out and lock it.
The biggest distraction for someone like me?
An audience up in my pocket.

So I start the day with a greeting.
And end with a night variation.
It safeguards my evenings and weekends at home,
To sign off, a mini-vacation.

Each double-page spread features a good morning wish and a corresponding good night wish. Sometimes these are variations on the same thing, sometimes they’re basically the same with only a few words tweaked for getting up and going to bed.

The simple black-and-white line drawings highlight each set of wishes and adds a little visual treat to go with the words.

This is a fun, sweet book with a positive message throughout. It feels like it would be too much if read straight through. That’s why I consider this a great nightstand book. Leave it handy for a few weeks, pick it up and read one or two pages at a time, or maybe just grab it and open at random when you need a little pick-me-up.

I got a bit of a Shel Silverstein vibe from the layout and presentation — the line drawings, the simple rhymes, the overall cheery, you-can-do-it attitude.

Really, this book is just full of smiles waiting to happen, and it would make a great feel-good gift (for yourself, or for someone else!)

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The details:

Title: Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You
Author: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Illustrator: Jonny Sun
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: October 16, 2018
Length: 207 pages
Genre: Advice/Affirmations
Source: PurchasedSave

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Book Review: The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman

November, 1941. She’s never even seen the ocean before, but Eva Cassidy has her reasons for making the crossing to Hawaii, and they run a lot deeper than escaping a harsh Michigan winter. Newly enlisted as an Army Corps nurse, Eva is stunned by the splendor she experiences aboard the steamship SS Lurline; even more so by Lt. Clark Spencer, a man to whom she is drawn but who clearly has secrets of his own. Eva’s past—and the future she’s trying to create—means that she’s not free to follow her heart. Clark is a navy intelligence officer, and he warns her that the United States won’t be able to hold off joining the war for long, but nothing can prepare them for the surprise attack that will change the world they know.

In the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Eva and her fellow nurses band together for the immense duty of keeping the American wounded alive. And the danger that finds her threatens everything she holds dear. Amid the chaos and heartbreak, Eva will have to decide whom to trust and how far she will go to protect those she loves.

Set in the vibrant tropical surroundings of the Pacific, The Lieutenant’s Nurse is an evocative, emotional WWII story of love, friendship and the resilient spirit of the heroic nurses of Pearl Harbor.

First, can we take a moment to appreciate the beauty of this book’s cover? Ah, the colors! I needed this book in my life even before reading the synopsis.

Fiction set in and around Pearl Harbor comes with a particular challenge. How do you create a story that can hold readers’ interest when the real-life events are more dramatic than anything made-up could be? The Lieutenant’s Nurse tries very hard to give us an epic love story that complements and is complemented by the historical events, but the love story elements just can’t really hold a candle to the the factual story of Pearl Harbor.

Not that The Lieutenant’s Nurse doesn’t have a lot going for it. Let’s start with our main character, Eva Cassidy. From the first, it’s clear that Eva has secrets. She’s traveling across the Pacific to an army nursing assignment in Hawaii, expecting gorgeous beaches, interesting medicine, and above all, an escape from a traumatic situation back home. The truth comes out in bits and pieces over the course of the novel, but we learn early on that Eva is traveling under an assumed name, that she’s fleeing a hospital scandal that gained her notoriety, and that her long-distance boyfriend has arranged to get her stationed in Honolulu, where’s he’s also stationed with the army.

On the ocean voyage, Eva is immediately drawn to the gorgeous naval officer Clark Spencer, and he seems drawn to her as well. As an intelligence officer, there’s a lot he can’t share, but he does warn her that war may be imminent, and that the Hawaiian islands may not be the peaceful haven she expects.

When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor takes place, Eva has only just arrived, but rushes to the hospital alongside the other devoted nurses to tend to the horribly wounded men. Meanwhile, she keeps an eye out for Clark, who’s brought in with injuries as well, and has to deal with the boyfriend, Billy, once she realizes that he’s not the man she truly loves.

On top of the love triangle drama, there’s intrigue as we learn that Clark became of aware of the impending attack days ahead of time, but that the report he submitted was blocked and discarded, eliminating the possibility of striking first against the approaching Japanese fleet or at least giving the fleet at Pearl Harbor a chance to prepare. When Clark tries to follow up, both he and Eva receive warnings from a pair of thugs who threaten their lives and also threaten to reveal Eva’s secrets.

While the descriptions of the sea voyage and the Hawaiian islands are lovely, the characters themselves rarely feel like more than cookie cutter figures. Eva is sympathetic, Clark is handsome and mysterious, and the resolution of the love triangle is predictable. Honestly, I’d say the plot didn’t need the extra complication of the spy games and the thugs (who were not all that effective — why didn’t they just shoot Clark when they had the chance rather than letting him off with a warning? As international conspiracies go, it was a little hard to take seriously.)

Still, I found the depictions of the nurses and their dedication to their patients quite moving and inspiring, and the author does a lovely job of giving personalities and individuality to the soldiers and sailors who come to the hospital in the aftermath of the attack. Because we see the events of Pearl Harbor through Eva’s eyes, we don’t move much beyond the hospital confines, so the destruction of the fleet seems to happen at a bit of a remove.

The story of Pearl Harbor is so tragic and dramatic that it’s hard to care about anything else happening at the same time — so yes ,the love story and Eva’s personal background might be engaging, but they seem kind of small in comparison to the historical events unfolding here. The Lieutenant’s Nurse is a quick read with some touching moment, but ultimately the plot — especially the love triangle and the spy business — doesn’t really stand out as truly special.

I’d say this is a solid 3-star read for me.

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The details:

Title: The Lieutenant’s Nurse
Author: Sara Ackerman
Publisher: MIRA
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Where to start with how much I loved Daisy Jones & The Six? It’s a glorious evocation of the drug-fueled rock scene of the 1970s, and at the same time, it’s a deeply personal look inside the hearts and minds of rock gods, revealing them as ordinary people in an extraordinary time and place.

The book is presented as an oral history of the band, tracing it from early days to the huge flame-out at the peak of their success. The various band members, plus assorted producers, managers, rock critics, friends, and family, tell their version of the events. The accounts don’t necessarily line up. There are secrets that some know and others don’t; one person’s fond memory of a particular performance is another’s memory of bitter rivalry and slights.

The voices of Daisy and the others really come through. They’re unique personalities, despite there being so many of them. Through all these people, we really travel with the band on its climb to wild glory. Daisy is a rich-kid teen when we meet her, full of fire and energy and utter dissatisfaction. Her parents barely notice her, so she goes to the Sunset Strip to find a place for herself, first as a groupie, then eventually getting noticed for her raw talent and gorgeous voice as well.

Meanwhile, The Six — who started out as a pair of brothers with a talent for guitar — start to get gigs and develop a following. The band is full of talented musicians, but it’s lead singer Billy Dunne who’s the true rock star of the group, succumbing in the early days of the first tour to the lures of sex and drugs and non-stop partying. Billy’s wife Camila steps in to get him sober, and from then on, he’s pulled between his soul-deep commitment to his wife and daughters and the always present temptation of the out of control rock and roll life.

When Daisy records a duet with Billy (“Honeycomb”), the song is a huge hit, and eventually the idea is floated: Maybe Daisy should join The Six? Their voices and musical styles mesh perfectly. Daisy Jones on her own and The Six on their own were getting attention, but together, they’re superstars. In a mad frenzy of creativity, Billy and Daisy write the breakthrough album Aurora together, and the band seems destined to become the greatest rock and roll band of all time.

Daisy Jones & The Six gives us all the heartbreak of devastating love, both the requited and unrequited varieties, as well as the jealousies and competition and resentments that simmer below the surface of a group that wants to have equality, but sees two of their own becoming breakaway stars with all the power. We also see the expected ravages of the constant drug use, but here, it’s happening to the people telling us their story, so it’s particularly powerful and heartbreaking, even when we can see what terrible decisions they’re making.

I really don’t want to give too much away. This is a book that should be experienced. I love that the book includes all the song lyrics from the Aurora album at the back — and I also love all the fan club materials available here. How cool is that to see pieces of the album cover and the liner notes, as well as the band bios? Also, check out the trailer video:

Doesn’t that just make you wish you were there at one of their concerts? I know while reading the book, no matter how much I enjoyed reading the song lyrics, part of me was dying inside because I wanted to hear Billy and Daisy actually singing those songs! Did author Taylor Jenkins Reid have music to go with the lyrics? Inquiring minds want to know!

In terms of my reaction to the book, for Daisy, I got kind of a 70s Carly Simon vibe (in terms of looks, not voice or temperament). This isn’t necessarily because of her physical description in the book, but just the sense I formed in my own head. Something like these: (note: images scavenged from Pinterest)

And when Billy invites Daisy up to sing with The Six for the first time, I got this kind of feel in terms of the moment and their chemistry:

(Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve watched me some Shallow… couldn’t resist.)

Back to Daisy Jones & The Six: I loved it. It’s rock and roll, it’s the 1970s, it’s deeply personal, and it’s one heck of a powerful read.

I’m a fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid (although I’m hanging my head in shame over not having read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo yet). She’s such a talented writer, and this book is simply a treat. Don’t miss it!

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:
After I Do
Forever, Interrupted
Maybe in Another Life
One True Loves

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The details:

Title: Daisy Jones & The Six
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Shelf Control #157: The Hunger by Alma Katsu

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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A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.

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Title: The Hunger
Author: Alma Katsu
Published: 2018
Length: 376 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A tense and gripping reimagining of one of America’s most haunting human disasters: the Donner Party with a supernatural twist.

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos, unknowingly propelling them into one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains…and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along. Effortlessly combining the supernatural and the historical, The Hunger is an eerie, thrilling look at the volatility of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

How and when I got it:

LIBRARY SALE!

Why I want to read it:

I’ve always found the subject of the Donner party pretty fascinating. I read a terrific historical novel about it years ago (Snow Mountain Passage by James D. Houston) , but The Hunger sounds like something new and different, infusing a horror element into a familiar historical event and turning into something else entirely. The story of the Donner party is already so disturbing — can’t wait to see what happens when you add in some sort of supernatural evil.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

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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 ~ 3/4/2019

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.

What a week. Insanely busy at work, and then crazy hectic at home too. So… my reading time got squished down to almost nothing, leaving me frustrated. Boo.

What did I read during the last week?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I actually finished this the previous weekend, but just posted my review this week.

That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire: The 8th book in the super-fun InCryptid series! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

I finshed the Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce! Loved these books so much. My series wrap-up post is here.

Also, I listened to…

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel: The audiobook version of this novella is short (2 hours, 12 minutes). I can’t say I was bored, but I thought overall that this work of speculative fiction lacked true depth, and the key plot twist is just too obvious. Not a bad way to kill a couple of hours, but certainly nowhere near the greatness of the Themis Files books.

Pop culture goodness:

What a week for theater! I ended up seeing two terrific performances this week:

What a fun production! The costumes are so eye-poppingly colorful, and the choreography was a treat too.

But the true highlight for me was seeing…

HAMILTON!!! This was my 2nd time seeing the show, and if possible, I loved it even more the 2nd time around. I saw it Saturday night, and have been walking around with a dopey grin ever since, singing my own off-key version of the songs and feeling some serious afterglow.

Oh, and I got this shirt, which makes me very happy.

Yes, I absolutely needed a Hamilton in San Francisco shirt!

Fresh Catch:

I picked up a print copy of the book I’m reading via Serial Reader, to make it easier when I need to go back and check details.

AND… it’s always a treat to get an email from Goodreads about winning a giveaway! I won a Kindle edition of this book this week:

Gorgeous cover, right? And the premise sounds amazing. Since the book doesn’t come out until September, I’ll probably hold off a bit before reading it — but I’m so excited to have a copy of my own!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m bouncing between a few books right now:

  • Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: So excited to be starting this book finally.
  • Here by Richard McGuire: A graphic novel recommended to me by a friend.
  • Gmorning, Gnight! … because I’m high on Lin-Manuel Miranda right now.
Now playing via audiobook:

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely: Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this does not look like my sort of listen. Still, it was an Audible freebie last month, it’s under 2 1/2 hours, and what the heck? Might as well go with something quick and light before committing to one of the longer listens in my library.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group, plus one more on my own just for kicks:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens: I’m reading this classic via the Serial Reader app. So good! I’m now at 40%.

So many books, so little time…

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Take A Peek Book Review: That Ain’t Witchcraft (InCryptid, #8) by Seanan McGuire

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Crossroads, noun:

1. A place where two roads cross.
2. A place where bargains can be made.
3. See also “places to avoid.”

Antimony Price has never done well without a support system. As the youngest of her generation, she has always been able to depend on her parents, siblings, and cousins to help her out when she’s in a pinch—until now. After fleeing from the Covenant of St. George, she’s found herself in debt to the crossroads and running for her life. No family. No mice. No way out.

Lucky for her, she’s always been resourceful, and she’s been gathering allies as she travels: Sam, fūri trapeze artist turned boyfriend; Cylia, jink roller derby captain and designated driver; Fern, sylph friend, confidant, and maker of breakfasts; even Mary, ghost babysitter to the Price family. Annie’s actually starting to feel like they might be able to figure things out—which is probably why things start going wrong again.

New Gravesend, Maine is a nice place to raise a family…or make a binding contract with the crossroads. For James Smith, whose best friend disappeared when she tried to do precisely that, it’s also an excellent place to plot revenge. Now the crossroads want him dead and they want Annie to do the dirty deed. She owes them, after all.

And that’s before Leonard Cunningham, aka, “the next leader of the Covenant,” shows up…

It’s going to take everything Annie has and a little bit more to get out of this one. If she succeeds, she gets to go home. If she fails, she becomes one more cautionary tale about the dangers of bargaining with the crossroads.

But no pressure.

My Thoughts:

Seanan McGuire can pretty much do no wrong in my worldview, and That Ain’t Witchcraft is a prime example of why. The InCryptid series is relatively light-hearted, although bad things do happen, but overall these books maintain a whimsical, wise-ass feel that keeps the mood more on the fun end of the urban fantasy spectrum.

Eight books in, the series continues to rock and roll. The beauty (or I really should say, one of the beauties) of this series is the focus on the sprawling Price family, which gives the author plenty of characters to share the spotlight from book to book. So far, we’ve had three books with Verity as the lead, two with Alex, and now three with Antimony, the baby sister of the family. (I understand that the spotlight will be moving to a different family member in book #9 — I’m already on pins and needles to see what happens next!)

That Ain’t Witchcraft continues from the ending of book #7, Tricks For Free, with Antimony and friends on the run from the Covenant, the globally powerful cryptid-hating organization that would also like to track down and annihilate the entire Price clan. Looking for a hideout where they can rest and catch their breaths for a while, Antimony and the gang instead find themselves in a small town with a big problem involving the crossroads, the otherworldy entity that makes bargains that never seem to work out well for the human side.

The writing, as always in Seanan McGuire books, is snappy and snarky and full of pop-culture references and overall geekiness, and I love it all to bits. Random example:

“He’s a delicate boy. He doesn’t need some loose woman coming from out of town and getting him all confused.”

I blinked. “I… what? I don’t know whether to be more offended by you calling James ‘delicate’ or you calling me ‘loose.’ I assure you, I am the opposite of a loose woman. I’m a tightly wound, sort of prickly woman. Hermione Granger is my Patronus.”

Need I say more? In case it’s not perfectly obvious, the 8th book in an ongoing series is NOT the place to start. So, I encourage you to go find a copy of book #1, Discount Armageddon, and dive in. If you’re like me, you’ll be hooked, and will want to keep going until you’ve gobbled up all eight books and are panting for more.

InCryptids rule. Check out this series!

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The details:

Title: That Ain’t Witchcraft (InCryptid series, book #8)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Series wrap-up: The Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce

Last year, I began a journey through the lands of Tortall, the incredibly rich and exciting fantasy world created by Tamora Pierce. This year, I continued the adventure by listening to the audiobooks of the Beka Cooper trilogy — and now that I’ve finished, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

The Beka Cooper books take place about 150 years before the beginning of the Song of the Lioness quartet, Tamora Pierce’s first Tortall books, which introduce the young squire who would grow up to become Lady Knight Alanna. The Beka books were published after the Alanna, Daine, Kel, and Aly books, yet they are chronologically the first books in terms of the kingdom of Tortall. I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure about going back into the kingdom’s past and the pre-Alanna days… but I can tell you now that these books are very much worth it!

Beka Cooper herself is a wonderful lead character, everything we could hope for in a young female protagonist. In terms of how these books relate to the (chronologically) later books in the Tortall universe, Beka is George Cooper’s ancestor. That’s about all you need to know, but it does tie together quite nicely.

The story of Beka Cooper:

 

In book #1, Terrier, Beka is a young woman just starting out as a “puppy” (trainee) in the Provost’s Guard — the kingdom’s law enforcement department, whose members are referred to as “dogs”. Beka is smart and strong, from the poorest neighborhood of the capital city of Corus, raised in poverty until she and her siblings became wards of the Lord Provost himself, Lord Gershom. As an untested puppy, Beka is paired with Tunstall and Goodwin, two highly respected and experienced dogs, and before long she proves herself in a variety of street fights and arrests. Besides her fighting skills and sharp eye for clues, Beka has a touch of magic: She converses with the spirits of the dead, who come to her attached to the city’s pigeons, and she can also converse with dust spinners — the funnels of swirling dust that show up on street corners, collecting and then sharing with Beka the random bits of conversation they pick up from passers-by. Over the course of her puppy year, Beka becomes embroiled in a life-threatening search for a murderer, digging into the corruption polluting the highest levels of money and power in the lower city.

In the 2nd book, Bloodhound, Beka is no longer a puppy but a fully qualified dog. Here, she is assigned with her partner Clary Goodwin to track down the influx of counterfeit coins that threaten to undermine the entire kingdom. Beka goes on the hunt with Goodwin to track down the counterfeiters, along the way making enemies of the criminal kingpin of a nearby town, but also finding herself romantically involved with a handsome gambler who may or may not be trustworthy.

Finally, in book #3, Mastiff, we rejoin Beka a few years later, still working as a dog and with the reputation of being one of the most talented and determined. She’s committed to fighting injustice and keeping people safe, especially those who can’t fight for themselves. When an attack is made on the royal family, Beka and Tunstall are sent out to track the evildoers, in a case that involves high treason and the realm’s most dangerous and powerful mages.

These books are long and complicated… and I just can’t say enough good things about them! My daughter has pushed me to read them for years, but the first few times I picked up Terrier, I was put off by the language. Tamora Pierce gives her characters a street language that’s rich and flavorful, but which at first glance seemed too out-there to me. When I finally gave it a chance, though, I ended up loving it. Probably listening to the audiobooks helped — I was able to get the feel of the words and their rhythm without getting too stuck on reading written dialect. It’s helpful, though, to keep a hard copy of the books on hand even if listening to the audio version, since the printed books include a glossary at the back, and it’s essential, especially when first entering Beka’s world.

Beyond the amazing language of the books, Beka herself is a wonderful character. Like many of Pierce’s heroines, she has an affinity for animals, and cat Pounce and dog Achoo become major characters in their own way over the course of the three books. Likewise, the supporting characters are fully developed, so we’re left in no doubt about their essences, values, skills, etc — except for the cases where someone’s motive are meant to be questionable, of course.

Pierce doesn’t shy away from sexual relationships, although thankfully she doesn’t seem to feel the need to give us anatomy lessons. Beka and others have sexual relationships as part of their natural lives, not a big deal, no moralizing or agonizing over whether to do it or not. Young women like Beka get charms to prevent pregnancy when they become sexually active, and that’s that. No fuss, no muss. Beka retains full agency over her body and her choices, and it’s a low-key message of empowerment that’s woven into the overall story.

By setting the books so much earlier than the other Tortallian books, we get a glimpse of how certain facets of life in the later (chronologically; earlier by publishing date) books came about. In the Beka books, women are well represented in law enforcement as well as among the knighthood — yet in the Alanna books, it’s considered unheard of for women to become knights, something that hasn’t happened in centuries. So how did the kingdom go from a fairly progressive stance toward women in combat or physical roles toward the idea that women must be proper ladies relegated to fashion, etiquette, embroidery, and other ladylike pursuits? We get a hint of the origins of this change in Mastiff, as Beka travels to one of the kingdom’s fiefdoms where the cult of the Gentle Mother seems to be taking hold — setting the standard that fighting is for men and that women’s greatest joy lies in hearth and home. Likewise, we see how the kingdom moves from a land that tolerates the slave trade to one where slavery is outlawed, thanks to the events initiated in this trilogy. It’s really fascinating to see the seeds here for the changes that are so apparent in the books set later in the kingdom’s history.

The audiobooks are narrated by Susan Denaker, who does an amazing job with the character voices, capturing the regional accents of characters from different geographical and ethnic backgrounds, as well as the language and slang differences in the dialogue of characters from different social strata, from street thugs to children of lower city slums to the nobility and even royalty.

Lots of Beka books in my house!

I really, truly adored getting to know Beka, who instantly jumped onto my ever-growing list of favorite fictional characters of all time. I’m absolutely loving my adventures in the world created by Tamora Pierce. Fortunately, I still have a few books to go!

Want to read my other Tortall series wrap-up posts? Here are the links:
Song of the Lioness (Alanna)
The Immortals (Daine)
Protector of the Small (Kel)
Daughter of the Lioness (Aly)

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Book details:

Terrier – published 2006
Bloodhound – published 2009
Mastiff – published 2011
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Shelf Control #156: The Reminders by Val Emmich

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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A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.

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Title: The Reminders
Author: Val Emmich
Published: 2017
Length: 320 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Grief-stricken over his partner’s death, Gavin sets fire to every physical reminder in the couple’s home. A neighbor captures the ordeal on video, turning this unsung TV actor into a household name. Now, Gavin is fleeing the hysteria of Los Angeles for New Jersey, hoping to find peace with the family of an old friend. Instead, he finds Joan.

Joan, the family’s ten-year-old daughter, was born with the rare ability to recall every day of her life in cinematic detail. In seconds, she can tell you how many times her mother has uttered the phrase “it never fails” in the last six months (27) or what she was wearing when her grandfather took her fishing on a particular Sunday in June years ago (fox socks). Joan has never met Gavin until now, but she did know his partner, Sydney, and waiting inside her uncanny mind are half a dozen startlingly vivid memories to prove it.

Gavin strikes a deal with Joan: in return for sharing all her memories of Sydney, Gavin will help Joan win a local songwriting contest she’s convinced could make her unforgettable. The unlikely duo sets off on their quest until Joan reveals unexpected details about Sydney’s final months, forcing Gavin to question not only the purity of his past with Sydney but the course of his own immediate future.

Told in the alternating voices of these two irresistible characters, The Reminders is a hilarious and tender exploration of loss, memory, friendship and renewal.

How and when I got it:

LIBRARY SALE!

Why I want to read it:

I really didn’t know anything about this book before picking it up, but the bright cover caught my eye and I remembered hearing about it from a blogger friend. Turns out, the synopsis makes The Reminders sound like a great read for me — it sounds funny, quirky, but also with emotional impact. I like the description of the two main characters and the unusual plot set-up, so now that I’ve reminded myself that I own a copy, I’m eager to read it.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

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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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Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters–strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis–survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

Pachinko is a multi-generational family saga which starts with Sunja, the teen-aged daughter of two poor but loving parents who instill in Sunja a love of family and the value of hard work and sacrifice for the sake of those you love. Over the course of this 500-page novel, we follow Sunja from Korea to Japan, and then follow her descendants through two more generations, as her children and her grandchildren struggle to find their place living in Japan but never able to shed their otherness as Koreans.

The early sections of the book focus on Sunja herself, as she finds herself pregnant by an older man who offers to set her up with a comfortable life as his Korean wife, despite never being able to marry her since he’s already married in Japan. When Sunja rejects his offer, she faces a life of shame until a kind but ill minister decides to devote himself to her and provide a life for Sunja and the baby in Osaka.

Life in Japan is hard, as the Koreans live in a squalid ghetto-like neighborhood and struggle to survive. As the second World War progresses, the family faces greater and greater dangers, and yet Sunja’s family grows through her two sons as well as the extended family she finds in her brother- and sister-in-law.

Over the years, Sunja’s children grow into young men, and each faces his own set of obstacles and challenges. While post-war Japan offers greater opportunities in some ways, the Korean immigrants and their Japanese-born children are continually treated as inferior, looked upon as dirty and undesirable and criminal. The discrimination, portrayed in this book through the 1980s, is unrelenting and very disturbing.

The plot covers about 50 years, and during these decades the focus shifts away from Sunja and toward the younger generation and their friends, relationships, and their own struggles. While my attention was mostly held throughout, by the last third of the book I started to feel that the story was becoming a little too dispersed. Not only were there chapters about Sunja’s children and grandchildren, but there was also a chapter focused on the wife of Sunja’s son’s best friend and other on the girlfriend of one of her sons. As more and more characters are introduced and given backstories, the main characters tend to slip into the background. Why should Sunja’s story become less interesting as she ages? She’s little more than a supporting character by the final sections of the book, although the final chapters wrap up her story very well and bring the various plot points back together.

Still, there’s plenty to enjoy and discuss in Pachinko. I knew little about Korean history or the status of Koreans living in Japan prior to reading this book, so it was quite eye-opening for me. The intricate relationships and tensions between the characters are informed by the social status of the Koreans and how they view themselves and their roles in Japan, sometimes in really destructive ways.

Pachinko is an ambitious novel that covers a woman’s life from girlhood to old age, showing her loves and commitments and determination, as well as the legacy she leaves for her children. With memorable characters and heart-breaking events, Pachinko would make a great book group choice, as there’s plenty of food for thought and discussion.

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The details:

Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: February 7, 2017
Length: 502 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

The Monday Check-In ~ 2/25/2019

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.

So my son (very dedicated to his anti-book stance), now a high school student, casually dropped at dinner this week: “Hey, mom, that author was at school this week. You know, the guy that wrote that Scythe book.” Me: *freaking out* *freaking out* *freaking out*

He mentions this to me days after the fact! And said (grudgingly) that the talk was interesting. And that he (Neal Shusterman) talked for about an hour. And talked about writing Challenger Deep, which I really need to read.

I swear, school is wasted on the young! I wish I could have transported my consciousness into the body of one of the students for the day so I could have been in the audience. Sigh.

What did I read during the last week?

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: I wrote about reading this children’s classic (as well as Anne of Green Gables) here.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A powerful, multi-generational family drama set in Korea and Japan. This 500-page book took up most of my reading time this week! I’ll post a review in the next few days, I hope.

Fresh Catch:

Nada! No book purchases this week.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

That Ain’t Witchraft (InCryptid, #8) by Seanan McGuire: I’d intended to start this last week, but then got side-tracked by Pachinko and ran out of time. I’m so excited to be starting this book! I love the series so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

Mastiff (Beka Cooper, #3) by Tamora Pierce: The trouble with listening to a great book is getting close to the end, dying to know what happens, but not having enough listening time to actually finish. I’m at 83%, and I’m so tempted to switch to print so I can race through the big finale! But nope… I’m going to practice a little self-restraint and stick to the audio. For now.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group, plus one more on my own just for kicks:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read. The writing is so beautiful.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens: I’m reading this classic via the Serial Reader app, and love it so far. I’m at about 25%.

So many books, so little time…

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