The Monday Check-In ~ 10/7/2019

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. 

In the ongoing saga of my hand, I’m now wearing this little shield/brace on my thumb, probably for just a couple of weeks. And I started physical therapy too, slowly trying to get my opposable thumb movements back. Yay for getting better!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I read during the last week?

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss: Such a gorgeous book! My review is here.

The Institute by Stephen King: After a few false starts, I finally dug back into this book and finished it. Good and creepy! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli: Oh, I had problems with this book. My review is here.

Also in audio — I’m listening my way through Amazon’s Forward series of short stories. So far, I’ve listened to these three:

Quick reaction:

  • Summer Frost: Emotional and chilling story set in the world of AI. Very easy to get caught up in this story!
  • You Have Arrived At Your Destination: About a couple considering a tech firm’s services to produce a designer baby. I’m not sure I really got it in the end.
  • Randomize: So much fun! All about a couple using quantum computing to scam a Las Vegas casino. Fast and enjoyable.

Pop Culture

Back to my Veronica Mars obsession! This week, I watched the 2014 movie. Love, love, love. (Or should I say, LoVe. If you watch the show, you get it.)

And, I finished season 2 of Fleabag. I’m ready for some more binge suggestions!

Fresh Catch:

My amazing daughter sent me this awesome present:

Also…

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman arrived. I’d almost forgotten this was coming! I need to re-read La Belle Sauvage before I start this one…

Debbie Harry made an appearance in SF this past week, and while I missed the event, someone was kind enough to snag a copy of her book for me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas: When I heard that the Veronica Mars creator had written YA novels in the 90s, I just had to try one.

Now playing via audiobook:

Continuing onward with the Forward stories — the remaining three are:

Ongoing reads:

Whee! I’m reading A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, one chapter per day for the whole month. Apparently, this is a thing I’ve been missing out on all these years. Check out more info here. Fun so far!

And in book group news:

Our next group read, starting this week, is the novella A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows, reading two sections per week. I’ve read this story before (a couple of times) — but it’s a good one! I’m happy to be sharing the experience with the group this time around.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephen King, the most riveting and unforgettable story of kids confronting evil since It—publishing just as the second part of It, the movie, lands in theaters.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

When it comes to crafting stories about kids in creepy peril, Stephen King is… well… king.

The Institute doesn’t start the way you think it will — no mention of main character Luke or the Institute itself for about 50 pages. Instead, we meet Tim Jamieson, an ex-cop from Florida who sets out hitchhiking without a whole lot of purpose and winds up in a small town in South Carolina, where he joins the local sheriff’s department as a night knocker, sort of an unarmed watchman position. Eventually, Tim feels like he’s possibly, finally found a home and a new meaning for his life in this little town.

And that’s the last we see of Tim for a few hundred pages.

The main focus of the story is introduced when we meet Luke, a brilliant 12-year-old about to start MIT, whose incredible mental abilities come with a side of very mild telekinetic power. It’s his telekinetics, rather than his brain power, that make him a target for the Institute and land him in this isolated facility in Maine. The children at the Institute are put through a barrage of shots and sinister tests, all designed to enhance their TP (telepathy) and (TK) telekinesis. During their free time, the kids can hang out, basically keep whatever hours they choose, and do whatever they want, including drinking and smoking. In fact, drinking and smoking are encouraged, since the kids earn vending machine tokens through good behavior, and an addiction is a marvelous motivation to keep earning those tokens.

The purpose of the Institute is slowly revealed, but long before we learn why they’re doing what they’re doing, we know enough to know it’s bad. The treatment of the kids is horrific. They’re subjected to physical and emotional torture and abuse, and there’s very little concern about whether the kids are actually healthy, so long as their TP and TK abilities are honed and developed.

I’m not going to go too far into plot here — as with most Stephen King books, it’s best to just read it and put the pieces together as you go along.

So is The Institute a must-read? Well, for King fans, absolutely. It’s not skin-crawling horror like his recent book The Outsider, but it is still chilling and disturbing and creepy. That said, the book is a bit long, and takes a while to really get going. It took me two false starts before I really got into it, hitting stumbling blocks with the sudden transition from a story about an adult in South Carolina to the main story about the kidnapped children. Ultimately, it comes together and the story really works, but I think there are places where the action could have moved forward a little more quickly.

If you enjoy King’s writing, you’ll enjoy The Institute. As for me, as I always love when Stephen King references himself (and with over 60 novels in print, he has a lot of source material to choose from!). Here’s one example from The Institute that made me happy:

Back in the main corridor — what Luke now understood to be the residents’ wing — the little girls, Gerda and Greta, were standing and watching with wide, frightened eyes. They were holding hands and clutching dolls as identical as they were. They reminded Luke of twins in some old horror movie.

Good stuff.

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The details:

Title: The Institute
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: September 10, 2019
Length: 561 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/23/2019

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. 

Woo hoo — I finally get my cast off at the end of this week! I can’t wait to be done… although then I’ll be starting physical therapy, and I’ve been warned already that’s it’s going to be HARD.

I’m heading out of town for a few days this week for a work conference, and you know what that means? Four hours on a plane each way to read!

 

What did I read during the last week?

In brand-new fiction:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I’m really surprised by how many negative reviews there are on Goodreads for this book. I gave it 5 stars! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: I finished the audiobook (as a reread), and loved it. Still not sure I get everything about the Insidious Humdrum, but oh well. At least I’m ready to dive right in when the sequel comes out this week!

In middle grade:

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden: The follow-up to Small Spaces, Dead Voices is another fun ghost adventure for middle grade readers. It’s got some good thrills and chills (nothing too terrifying) and a nice focus on friendship and family.

And in graphic novels…

The Walking Dead, volume 32: Rest in Peace: I can’t believe it’s all over! While the TV series may keep going for decades longer, the comic series has come to an end. Rest in Peace is actually a very good ending for this series, which has had some ups and downs, but overall, has been an incredible journey.

Pop Culture

I couldn’t resist — I went ahead and started season 3 of Veronica Mars. And I’ve got the same mixed feelings about this season as I had the first time around. But hey, on the bright side, when I finish this season, I’ll have the movie up next!

And speaking of movies, I took myself to see this over the weekend:

There really isn’t much of a plot, but it doesn’t matter — the whole point is spending a couple more hours with all the characters. And hearing the Dowager Countess get in some good zingers.

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to two books this week:

An adorable hardcover edition of Little Women, to go with my copy of Anne of Green Gables from the same series (Puffin in Bloom); and…

… this amazing-looking two-sided, accordion-style book. Can’t wait to start it!

I also hit the big library sale last week, and showed remarkable self-restraint! I spent $30 and came home with 11 books. Not too shabby!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Institute by Stephen King: I’ve just barely started it, so I’m not into the story yet. I may put this one aside temporarily, since I have the hardcover edition and don’t want to take it on the plane with me.

Now playing via audiobook:

Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart: Book 5 in the terrific Kopp Sisters series. Even though I received a print ARC of this book a couple of months ago, I decided to hold off and wait for the audiobook. So far, I’ve listened to the audiobooks for the whole series, and the narrator is amazing!

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — Instead of going at my group’s pace, I decided to just push through to the end via Serial Reader. I think I’ll be done in the next few days! Finally.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon — Finishing this week!

So many books, so little time…

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten favorite characters from recent reads

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 a Character Freebie, which means that we come up with our own topics on the subject of book characters.

I’ve done a whole bunch of character posts over the years, including…

  • Favorite fantasy characters
  • Best secondary characters
  • Frustrating characters
  • Characters I’d want with me on a deserted island
  • and more…

This time around, I thought I’d keep it simple, and just focus on characters from books I’ve read in the last year or so. Without further fuss, here are ten (um, actually, eleven) characters I’ve really loved from some of my more recent reads:

1. Billy Dunn, Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Reid Jones: Sexy lead guitarist, songwriter, and family man, whose electricity just crackles off the page

2. Tasheret, Competence (The Custard Protocol, #3) by Gail Carriger: A gorgeous were-lioness who’s afraid of nothing, especially not showing love

3. Young-sook, The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See: This story floored me, especially the bravery of the diving women and all they endured. Young-sook’s story is absolutely fascinating and so moving.

4. Lord John Grey, from various Lord John and Outlander works by Diana Gabaldon: Lord John isn’t actually new to me, but my book group has been re-reading all the Lord John-related novellas and novels in the Outlander world during the past year, so he counts as recent! Lord John is a sweet, smart, talented soldier and gentleman, who has a dry wit that’s a joy to behold. He also has great taste in men!

5. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery: Where has Anne been all my life? I’m halfway through the series, and I adore Anne’s brightness and spirit as she grows from precocious tween to effervescent young woman.

6. Roger and Dodger, Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: Twins with unlimited power, with murky origins and incredible gifts, who are — despite all this — really interesting and complicated people.

7. Prince Peter, The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King: Ah, the good prince Peter! Everything royalty and nobility should be. He made me want to cheer as he struggled for redemption and to free his kingdom from evil.

8. Maggie Hoskie, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse: The lead character of these terrific books is a strong, kick-ass monster hunter, rooted in tradition and adapted to a changed world. Can’t wait for more!

9. Beka Cooper, the Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce: Beka is such a great character! I loved all three books about her, and just wish there were more.

10. Veronica Speedwell, A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn: Gotta love a Victorian lepidopterist who enjoys science, adventure, and taking lovers.

What characters have you really loved recently? What theme did you pick this week? Please share your links!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2019

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 Releases of the Second Half of 2019.

I’m so excited for all of these… as you could probably tell if you took a peek at my pre-order list. A lot of these books are sequels or parts of series, and that’s just fine with me. Here are my top ten anticipated books — see the list below for release dates.

  1. The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell (release date 8/6/2019)
  2. Reticence (The Custard Protocol, #4) by Gail Carriger (release date 8/6/2019)
  3. Snow, Glass, Apple by Neil Gaiman (release date 8/20/2019)
  4. The Institute by Stephen King (release date 9/10/2019)
  5. The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale, #2) by Margaret Atwood (release date 9/10/2019)
  6. Wayward Son (Carry On, #2) by Rainbow Rowell (release date 9/24/2019)
  7. The Unkindest Tide (October Daye, #13) by Seanan McGuire (release date 9/3/2019)
  8. The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, #2) by Philip Pullman (release date 10/3/2019)
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (illustrated edition) by J. K. Rowling (release date 10/8/2019)
  10. Malorie (Bird Box, #2) by Josh Malerman (release date 12/3/2019)

Are you planning to read any of these? What books are you dying to read in the 2nd half of 2019? Please share your links!

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Top Ten Tuesday: A Selection of Favorite Fantasy Books and Series

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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 Books From My Favorite Genre. I bounce between genres quite a bit, but thought I’d focus here on fantasy. My list includes stand-alones as well as series, and because I’m sticking to just 10, I ended up not including three that pretty much go without saying: of course I love the Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Lord of the Rings books! (See? I managed to mention them after all!)

My top ten, in no particular order:

  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Codex Alera (series) by Jim Butcher
  • The Immortals (series) (standing in for ALL Tortall books) by Tamora Pierce (review)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (review)
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series) by Patricia C. Wrede (review)
  • Wayward Children (series) by Seanan McGuire (review)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King (review)
  • The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner (review)
  • His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman

What genre did you pick this week? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years

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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 Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years, highlighting one favorite books per year. What a great excuse for a trip back through my shelves!

It’s really hard to come up with just one favorite per year, so some of these are chosen somewhat arbitrarily from among all my five-star reads. If I’ve reviewed the book here on my blog, the link is provided — check it out if interested!

  • 2018: The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah (review)
  • 2017: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan (review)
  • 2016: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (review)
  • 2015: Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart (review)
  • 2014: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  • 2013: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (review)
  • 2012: The Martian by Andy Weir (review)
  • 2011: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (review)
  • 2010: Feed by Mira Grant
  • 2009: Under the Dome by Stephen King

What were your favorite books of the past 10 years? Do we have any in common? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/6/2019

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.

What did I read during the last week?

Goodness, I’ve barely read or posted anything this past week! Well, okay, the main book I read was on the longer side, so maybe it just feels like I didn’t do much reading — I read A LOT, but all in one book!

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: Weird and wonderful, and I loved it. My review is here.

I also finished the audiobook of The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. Great story, with terrific narration by Bronson Pinchot. My review is here.

Pop culture goodness:

It had to happen sooner or later — I saw the new Avengers movie! And enjoyed it, although I do have some doubts and quibbles about various plot points. Ah well, despite that, it was a very entertaining way to spend three hours.

Fresh Catch:

Quite a splurge this week, I can’t figure out what got into me!

Some books I’ve already read, some that are new to me… I’m excited to have them all!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon: It’s been a while since I’ve read YA. I’m happy to be starting this one, since it’s a follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi, which I really liked.

And meanwhile, I’m just waiting and counting the hours until Tuesday — release day for the newest Mercy Thompson book! I can’t wait for this book to arrive so I can dive in:

Now playing via audiobook:

Heads Will Roll by Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne: I was going to start a serious novel as my next audiobook… but why do that when I have Kate McKinnon to listen to? I’m just starting today, but I have a feeling this will be exactly what I need this week!

Ongoing reads:

Three ongoing reads at the moment:

  • Besieged by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection — a group read for my Outlander book group, two sections of the story per week.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — my book group’s current classic selection. We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week.
  • Tortall: A Spy’s Guide –– I’ve had this on my nightstand for weeks now, reading it in teeny-tiny chunks. Maybe I’ll finish this week…

So many books, so little time…

 

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Audiobook Review: The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

 

“Once, in a kingdom called Delain, there was a king with two sons….”

Thus begins one of the most unique tales that master storyteller Stephen King has ever written—a sprawling fantasy of dark magic and the struggle for absolute power that utterly transforms the destinies of two brothers born into royalty. Through this enthralling masterpiece of mythical adventure, intrigue, and terror, you will thrill to this unforgettable narrative filled with relentless, wicked enchantment, and the most terrible of secrets….

I originally read The Eyes of the Dragon ages ago, probably not long after its release in the late 80s. And honestly, I didn’t remember much about it, other than (a) it was a real departure for Stephen King at that point, and (b) I liked it.

Why did I decide to revisit this story? I’m not really sure what brought it back to my attention — I think maybe it popped up on my Audible recommendation list? In any case, the audiobook caught my eye right when I was in between listens and I decided to give it a try. Great choice!

The Eyes of the Dragon, as far as I can tell, is one of King’s early departures from writing straight-up horror. It’s not a horror story at all — instead, it’s fantasy set in a far-off kingdom, where an evil magician is determined to thrust the land into chaos and bloodshed in order to satisfy his own dark purposes.

King Roland the Good is an okay king, kind but not particularly effective, and perhaps a little too under the sway of his advisor, the magician Flagg. Roland has two sons — his heir, Peter, and a younger son, Thomas, who grows up in his older brother’s shadow, always plagued by feelings of inadequacy and jealousy as he watches Peter grow into a fine, beloved young man. When Flagg’s schemes end with Peter falsely imprisoned on charges of murdering his father, Thomas gains the throne, but he’s guided in all things by Flagg, who uses Thomas’s weakness to destabilize the country. But Peter is strong and smart, and doesn’t give up so easily…

Such a terrific story! I was completely enthralled by this tale of loyalty, royalty, friendship, betrayal, and the evil that threatens to undermine families and kingdoms. The characters are so well drawn, showing shades of personality and motivation, and finding hidden dimensions in characters that might otherwise seem like a stock type.

The audiobook is narrated by actor Bronson Pinchot, and he’s wonderful. He captures the folksy nature of the storytelling (as the book’s narrative voice often interjects the narrator’s own opinions and speaks directly to the reader/listener), and also does an amazing job with the voices, from old King Roland to timid Dennis the butler to upright Peter, and of course, most especially, the insidiously scary Flagg.

The Eyes of the Dragon is an excellent adventure — don’t miss it!

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The details:

Title: The Eyes of the Dragon
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Bronson Pinchot
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: February 2, 1987
Print length: 484 pages
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 23 mintues
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Top Ten Tuesday: The best books I read in 2018

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Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019! 

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 Best Books I Read In 2018.

According to Goodreads, I gave a 5-star rating to 73 books in 2018, and a 4-star rating to 83. That makes 156 books that I pretty much loved. Yowza, what a year! I don’t think I can limit myself to just 10 books here… so I’ll highlight a few, include a few others by category, and see how it all works out…

Here are (just a few of) my favorites from 2018:

1) Powerful family drama set in Alaska: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (review)

2) Two views of an an ancient classic: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (review)

3) Terrific historical fiction that I read because of my book group: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (review) and The Chilbury Lady’s Choir by Jennifer Ryan (review)

4) A surprising moving short novel by Stephen King:  Elevation (review)

5) Amazing woman-power science fiction:  The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (review)

6) Action/adventure with THE BEST heroic duo: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer (review)

7) New books in beloved series:

8) Deliciously fun contemporary romance: 

9) Intriguing story collections:

10) A couple of classics that I finally read!

 

What were your favorite reads of 2018? Please leave me your link!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Wishing one and all a terrific new year filled with wonderful books!

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