fiction · humor

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

I always enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s books. I have even featured her in an Author Obsession spotlight. Most people know her for her Shopoholic series but I vastly prefer the books she has written outside of Becky Bloomwood’s insatiable thirst for things. I didn’t even know Kinsella had a new book coming out until I ran across it in the Indigo bookstore in Montreal. It is the lone fiction book I purchased in my Canadian travels.

surprise_meSurprise Me is the story of Sylvie and Dan. They have been blissfully coupled for ten years, they have twin girls and they are so in sync that they can predict each others meal choices and finish one anothers sentences. All is idyllic. Except, of course, it can never stay that way. After a visit to their doctor they are told they could live another sixty-eight years. The realization that they will be eating together and sleeping together for that much longer fills them with panic. They decide (well, mostly Sylvie decides) to embark on Project Surprise Me to shake up their predictable routine. But not all surprises are fun.

The magic of Sophie Kinsella lies in her ability to redeem her character from the tailspin of poor choices they make in the first half of each story and present you with a reformed character that you adore by the end of the book. This may be a predictable formula but it never stales since Kinsella always manages to make me cheer and applaud as the characters eventually climb out of the mess. This particular story went a step farther and I found myself gasping aloud in surprise at one of the plot points. I went so far as to make a friend read the book so we could have the following conversation.

Me, “(Character redacted to avoid spoilers) was the absolute worst right?!?”

Friend, “The worst.”

Me, “But could you believe…???!!!??”

Friends, “NO.I.COULD.NOT.”

I admit that there were moments I wanted to strangle or slap Sylvie. It is difficult to explain why without spoiling some of the finer moments, but she just struck me as too fragile to be a true fictional friend. Dan had his moments with me as well. And just when I wondered how this was going to end, Sophie Kinsella worked her magic and gave me another fantastic read.


Tell me, please!

Have you read Sophie Kinsella’s books?


fiction

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikery by Gabrille Zevin

Two nights ago I heard a noise around one thirty in the morning. It was probably my cat, Merlin, but that was all it took to upset my sleep. Insomnia had me in its grip and I was up for hours. Thankfully, as always, there was a book to keep me company. I selected the next book off the top of my pile and started reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

storied lifeThe blurb on the back jacket told me three basic things: A.J. owns a bookstore, he lives alone and a rare possession of Poe poems as been stolen. Then, the twist: a mysterious package appears at the bookstore.

I assumed at the beginning that the mysterious package would include Amelia Loman, the new representative for a publishing house, that is introduced on the first few pages. After all, she is traveling to see A.J. and attempt to sell him books. I cozied into my bed, one part of my brain open to the idea of sleep and the other ready for a romantic story. But, this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It opened up, chapter after chapter, like a flower and half way through I didn’t care about sleep or fatigue.

Eventually, sleep did come back to me. I finished the book over coffee yesterday morning. Through the story we meet more characters than just A.J. and Amelia. There is a police officer, Lambaise, A.J.’s sister-in-law, Ismay and her husband Daniel, and another character that everyone should have the privilege of meeting themselves. By the end of my breakfast I loved them all, save one.

I bought The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry because I thought it was set in a bookstore. I always purchase books with that setting. It found its way back to me, unexpectedly, in the middle of a Sunday night when I should have been asleep. Just like this story, sometimes the things we find when we are not looking are those that we require the most. I probably shouldn’t love this book, but it’s undeniable, I do.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever read a book that surprised you into loving it?


fiction

Circe by Madeline Miller

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I finished Madeline Miller’s first book, The Song of Achilles. That book tore something in my heart and for days afterwards I carried it around the house as one would a beloved stuffed animal. When I learned that she had a new book I was ecstatic but unsure if I could withstand the heartache. I needed to read it but I didn’t want it to be over. So, I purchased Circe and did what I always do. I held onto it delaying the moment for as long as possible.

circeWhen I started Circe I was thrilled to see that Madeline Miller’s beautiful prose is as full and lush as the gorgeous cover. I expected nothing less from this author. In a book comprised almost entirely of description I fell into a lull that was almost hypnotic, especially once Circe was banned to Aiaia. When Circe interacted with people I felt the invasion of our private time together, Circe and myself, acutely. In short, I loved it.

Madeline Miller has an innate ability to take a well known subject and shift our perspective. She doesn’t change the story. Circe is still a witch. She is still banned to Aiaia. And, she interacts with all the heroes our education informed us should cross her path. But, this time, we are not subjected to this woman’s story as told through the lens of a man. Instead, we hear it from the witch herself.

When I finished Circe I put it down, smiled at it and squinted my eyes like you would at a clever child or a quick witted quip. Madeline Miller got me again. I expected a strong preconceived notion to be melted away and with it, my heart. I was surprised instead to watch a white hot spark flutter slowly into existence until it grew into golden fire. I squinted at the book and felt the desire to wink at Circe but couldn’t manage to avoid whispering, “You go girl.”


Tell me, please!

Have you read Madeline Miller’s books? What are your thoughts?


fiction · YA

Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

Trollhunters is written by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus. Most people have heard of Guillermo del Toro either for Pan’s Labyrinth or the more recent Academy Award willing film, The Shape of Water. Less have heard of his co-author Daniel Kraus who, along with del Toro co-authored The Shape of Water. But, before The Shape of Water they wrote Trollhunters. Together, their blend of everyday life overlapped with the unusual and monsterous always capture my attention.

trollhunterTrollhunters begins during The Milk Carton Epidemic of 1969. Almost 200 children have gone missing without a trace all summer and brothers Jack and Jim Sturgess know they are supposed to be in before dark. But on September 21, 1969 it was Jack’s thirteenth birthday and they lost track of time. In a single moment, Jack was gone. Jim tried to find him but all he found was a monster.

45 years later Jim is all grown up with a son his own – James Sturgess Jr. Jim is fifteen, in love with Claire and desperately trying not to fail math. He has spent his life coming home before dark to a house with ten locks and security redundancies that would shame an embassy. But one night, in the safety of his own home, Jim is pulled under his bed by two massive furred paws.

Trollhunters is a fast paced novel that straddles the position somewhere between middle grade and YA. If you have seen Pan’s Labyrinth or The Shape of Water then you are familiar with del Toro and Kraus’ unique perspective on some darker themes. If not, I can safely tell you that there are numerous ways to describe the intestines and innards of trolls and the authors used them all.

In fact, the language in this book is flowery and has an almost tangible quality. Even when describing revolting scenes the word selection is elevated in a way that paints a vivid picture of the grotesque. These revolting creatures are described in such intimate details that you are left with a clear, albeit oozing, picture.

The only hiccup in this whole book for me was one of the main character’s name. ARRRGH!!! is a troll that is aiding humans. I’m not sure about your reading style but when things are in all caps I tend to shout them out in my head. So, I was lulled along by the gorgeous language superimposed on clashing action and then I kept shouting “ARRRGH!!!” like a small child. Perhaps this was a purposeful interruption by the authors but it broke the pace of the story for me in an awkward manner.

Still, this is a tiny issue with a completely enjoyable book. I was surprised to find Jim’s best friend Tub and his crush Claire to be well formed and delightful characters in their own way. I am always excited by the best-friend character. The trolls that come to human’s aid are more unique than expected in a genre that occasionally feels full.

trollhuntershowThere is also a Netflix show based on the book which I watched binge-style for the whole first season. There are some differences – aren’t there always? – but overall I enjoyed the show and the book for completely different reasons and recommend them for a fun early-high school and onward reader.

 

 

 

 


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book or others by these authors? What are your thoughts?


all ages · Fantasy · fiction

Bob by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass

One of my 2018 challenges was to not purchase any books until I had read my already owned whole shelf of books. I did really well in January and February and then fell off the wagon….hard. I wrote down my newly purchased books for some of March but then I just couldn’t even keep track. Now I am not even trying. Recently, I went into Barnes and Noble to wander around (the lie all book lovers tell themselves upon entering a book store). I stumbled across an a few must-purchase books and I could not resist the sweet premise of Bob by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass.

BobFive years ago Olivia (Livy to her friends) visited her Gran in Australia. Now that she is back she can’t help but feel that she is forgetting something. Something really, really important. Maybe it is the little green man dressed in a handmade chicken suit hiding in her closet. His name is Bob and he has been waiting for her all this time. She promised to help him and now its time to keep that promise.

This sweet little book left me sighing with pure happiness. Olivia and Bob’s friendship is pure and wrapped in the protective bubble of childhood that seems to disintegrate slightly during adolescents. The mystery of what Bob is and why Livvy struggles to remember him only adds to their bond.

This adorable book is well written and sweet. For adults, this is a one hour read. I can imagine this book would be a one week to ten day read aloud. Either way, it really make me think about memories, friendships, and how childhood adventures can sculpt our future lives.


Tell me, please!

Was there a childhood moment that defines magic to you?


Fantasy · fiction · YA

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince has been everywhere. I love Holly Black and I was thrilled that she had a new book. But, I made a New Year’s Resolution that I wouldn’t buy any new books. Sigh. I resigned myself to waiting until after the backlog of books was taken care of and then I would zoom out and purchase it right away.
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Then, I received an OwlCrate Subscription for Christmas. And in one of my delightful boxes…The Cruel Prince! I put it aside to read after my test and it was well worth the wait. Plus, just look at the gorgeous OwlCrate exclusive cover. So pretty.

I have loved Holly Black since The Spiderwick Chronicles and I will pick up anything with her name on it. She has a way with magical stories that never fails to engage and surprise me. Her tone varies depending on her target audience but her writing is always tight and masterful. There have been books of hers I have adored and there are others than I appreciated but did not fall in love with completely.

The Cruel Prince is difficult to discuss without spoilers and, truthfully, it has been so hyped that at this point I will be surprised if anyone doesn’t know the basic plot line. Still, for readers venturing outside of their preferred genre into YA – here goes.

It is safe to say that the main character, Jude Duarte, and her twin sister Taryn are human. Their older sister Vivi is half human, half fae and the three of them are taken from their human home and spirited away to live with the Fae by Vivi’s Fae Father. There Jude and Taryn are raised among the Fae with access to the Court but their humanity always sets them apart. They are humans under the protection of the same powerful man that stole them from their home. They are commoners being educated amounts royalty. They live in fear of their present safety and neither girl has any guarantee of a future at all.

Admittedly, for at least the first half of the book I was unengaged. Wait, that is not right. Rather, I felt removed from the action. I felt apart from the story and off-kilter. Approximately half way through the book the threads started to weave together and I realized that my off-kilter matched Jude’s inner turmoil. And when Jude found her purpose I was with her stride for stride.

In the end, I loved The Cruel Prince because it was so much more than a dark Fairy Tale.


Tell me, please!

If you read the book, which character was your favorite?


 

Classic · fiction

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This book has been on my radar for years. I was never assigned it in high school or college but everyone I knew had read it and found it to be profound. I have picked up copies at library books sales through the years (two to be exact) but it took listening to the audiobook version to finally experience this amazing classic book.

fahrenheit451Guy Montag lives in a world ruled by screens. His wife, Mildred is happy to be entertained by her screen “family” who live on three of the four walls of her parlor room walls. And Guy has a prestigious job as a firefighter. Except the fireman of Bradbury’s world are not needed to put out fires. Rather, they are assigned to start them. Firemen are tasked with burning the most illegal of all substances – books.

I cannot stop thinking about the world Bradbury describes. Certainly, a world ruled by screens probably seemed like a futuristic nightmare when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the 1940s. But, as I sit here typing on a laptop while watching on-demand television and texting with friends, it is clear that in 2018 our reliance on screens is a reality few of us can deny.

Certainly all book lovers know people who scoff at our book collection. We have smart, kind, intelligent people who say with pride, “I never read.” Our hearts break. We are confused. How could a person not understand the importance of books?

In Montag’s world reading books is not just scoffed at, it is illegal. And as I finished the story I couldn’t help but wonder, how far is the distance between scoffing at books and burning them? Because, after all, “You can’t make someone change their mind.”


Tell me, please!

Have you read Fahrenheit 451? Are you intrigued? I want to hear your thoughts!


 

fiction · historical fiction

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Some books are so well written that I find myself transported to another place or another time. When I finish the story, I always close the book, hold it in both hands and look back to the cover. I smile because just a few days ago this book was a stranger to me and now it is a friend.

watchmakerThe Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley was a beautiful unknown stranger when I started reading it last week. I always say that a book should be given at least three chapters and by the end of chapter three this book had me mesmerized. I was transported to Victorian England and Japan through the eyes of Thaniel, Grace and Mori. Now that the story has ended I have been abruptly thrust back into the reality of today and find that these characters are not here. Thankfully, a good book is a friend that is always there for me so I can visit them again.

Thaniel, short for Nathaniel, is a clerk. One evening a bomb threat is telegraphed in to Home Office. That same evening he returns home to find a pocket watch in his solitary dwelling on his bed with no explanation. When the bomb eventually does go off, the watch saves his life. And so begins Thaniel’s investigation into the mysterious watch and its more deliciously curious maker, Kieta Mori. Grace Carrow is a reluctant socialite pulled into the story slowly at first until she is completely intertwined with Thaniel and the Watchmaker.

I loved this story. This book was like looking at a place on Google map. At first, everything was general and far away and I couldn’t quite make sense of it all. But, as I kept reading the picture zoomed in slowly until little details because so clear and inviting that I couldn’t stop and I wanted to live there forever. I want desperately to speak in more detail but I had the great joy of reading it without the damper of other’s opinions or any plot spoilers and I will not take this experience from anyone else.

I highly recommend The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. This novel’s complex, yet enjoyable characters and delightful story made for a thoroughly enjoyable adventure on this cold wet January week.


Tell me, please!

Have you read or are you interested in The Watchmaker?


fiction

Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

I will be honest, as a kid I was never a fan of Wonder Woman. Before the fabulous Gal Gadot, the different variations of Diana Prince were underwhelming for me. She had so many things going for her but I was really stuck on the cleavage bearing outfit and the invisible plane. Both made me embarrassed on her behalf.

And then Gal Gadot made me believe.

So, when I heard there was a book written about Diana Prince’s early years and experiences (holy origin story, my favorite!) I had to check it out.

warbringer

Diana is growing up surrounding by battle tested Amazonian sisters. More than anything, she wishes to prove herself. When she saves a mortal she brings peril to her home, her sisters and perhaps the world because the mortal she has saved is Alia Keralis – a Warbringer. Now, Alia and Diana must work together to save both of their worlds.

I loved everything about this book. Clearly, I love a good origin story and Bardugo delivers in spades. Also, I am a fan of any book with a beautiful cast of characters. Alia’s best friend Nim has my heart forever and ever and I rooted for their friend Theo like he belonged to me. Bardugo also mentions a number of myths and stories that I enjoyed long ago and some that I was unfamiliar with but intrigued by all the same that gave the story an unexpected depth.

But the shifting perspectives of Alia and Diana were what made this story really come alive. The seamless flipping back and forth not only gave me insight into Diana’s thoughts and fears but being able to see her through Alia’s eyes made the character so real to me in a way that Wonder Woman never has been before. And, by weaving their narrative perspectives together Bardugo brought me right to the center of the action and I loved every minute of it.


Tell me, please!

Are you a Wonder Woman fan? Have you read Warbringer? I’d love to know!


fiction · Romantic · YA

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

This book made me happy cry…three times. Now, maybe it is because the book reached directly into my geeky little heart and plucked at my fan-fiction loving heartstrings. Or, perhaps this delightful little re-telling of Cinderella was just swoon worthy enough to push my frazzled emotions over the edge. Either way, I love this book!

geekerellaGeekerella by Ashley Poston is a modern re-telling of the classic Cinderella. Danielle is our princess, Darien the prince. Our Prince and Princess are trying to get to the Con – the ExcelsiCon that revolves around their favorite television show Starfield. Danielle’s Father created the wildly popular ExcelsiCon before he died and their shared love of Starfield is all that she has left of him that brings her comfort. Darien is a day time soap actor chosen to star as the lead in the movie re-make of Starfield. His love of Starfield is bringing him nothing but anxiety as he tries to simultaneously live his dream of inhabiting his favorite character and prove himself to the fans.

Geekerella has been well reviewed and many great points have been made about the deeply likable characters, the plot development and the lack of a truly horrible villain. But the unique aspect of this book that really spoke to me was the desire to belong. Cinderella has always been looking for family. The Prince has always been seeking a loving relationship. Danielle and Damien are trying to find these things in a modern world made more complicated by social media and technology.

Danielle has turned inward after the death of her Father. We saw that with Cinderella. But Cinderella had devoted servants (or vermin) to bring her comfort. Danielle has no one to rely on or even someone she feels she can ask for help. Watching her find the strength to put herself out into the real world was what brought me happy cry numero uno.

Darien is a teen heartthrob whose Dad would rather be his Agent and Manager than his Father. We see this everywhere in modern American – parents who want something other than to parent their children. That leaves Darien like our Prince – constantly on guard against user friends, crazy fans and people who want to profit from him. In the end, he is looking for someone who loves him. Just him.

This book really spoke to me about believing in yourself and finding the strength to fit into this chaotic world. There is a place we all belong if we are brave enough to try again and again to find it.


Tell me, please!

Have you read Geekerella? What are your thoughts?