Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins


Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts. 

After all, she was a normal American herself once.  

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

My take: 5 looks

I think I have hit my favorite genre, a genre I call Science Fiction Horror. I would put Daniel O'Malley's Chequey series in this category, as well. Humans vs nonhumans with a touch of needing to cover your eyes every now and again.

Carolyn seems like a normal young lady on the surface, as do her siblings. However, once you start to unravel the ties of the relationships with her "family", you see that there is something very other-worldly going on here. Father, Steve, Erwin, and the twelve librarians all have quite interesting histories. Histories that have prepared them for this moment of convergence.

"Library" had me from the very first page. It was gripping, taut, and very well crafted. As the pieces started to come together at the end, I found myself wanting more pages, simply so I could enjoy it longer. I will now search for others by this author.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley

Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2)Summary:

When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers—and the bureaucratic finesse—to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries:
The Checquy—the centuries-old covert British organization that protects society from supernatural
threats, and…
The Grafters—a centuries-old supernatural threat.
But as bizarre attacks sweep London, threatening to sabotage negotiations, old hatreds flare. Surrounded by spies, only the Rook and two women, who absolutely hate each other, can seek out the culprits before they trigger a devastating otherworldly war.
My take: 5 looks and a CAT CALL

When I saw that Daniel O'Malley had released a sequel to "The Rook", I immediately downloaded it and moved it to the top of my TBR.

The first in the series introduced us to the secret government organization tasked with protecting the general population from things of which they are completely ignorant. Kind of like "Men in Black". With a kick-ass woman as the lead, I devoured the more-than-600-page book in just a few days.

This one was no different. Again led by strong women, this is a must-read for every fan of science fiction, fantasy, and feminism. It is a roller coaster of a story, well-written, and cleverly full of twists and turns.

Some highlights:
  • I am absolutely appalled to have you here, but I am also extremely well mannered and so I shall conceal that fact from you.
  • "But I hate her," protested Odette. "Oh, I'm sure you think you do," said Marcel cheerfully, "but you're still young. It takes decades to really hate someone."
  • The color could perhaps have been descried as sky blue, but it was the blue of a sky that would drive even the cheeriest and most tuneful of novice nuns to slash her wrists. It was a blue that had given up.
See? Wicked good! Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 4: Adventures With Words

Adventures With Words
The next bookish podcast Ann and Michael of Books on the Nightstand recommended is Adventures with Words. This is a monthly podcast of books, sprinkled with reviews of film, tv, theater, and music. Hosted by Kate and Rob, it is based in the UK.

Looking at the description of their latest download, dated November 14, I am trepidatious. "It’s been an ‘interesting’ week in the world so Rob and Kate pick out some of the books they turn to for their comfort reads." Even though this is a British-based podcast, to have such a strong reference to the US Presidential election, and in a negative way, is off-putting for me. However, after listening, while both hosts are obviously liberal, they do restrain themselves from making political comments.

In choosing her first comfort read, Kate chooses ... a radio program. I forwarded through ten minutes of her talking about this daily 15-minute UK radio soap opera. To Rob's credit, he did choose a book, "Young Bond Strike Lightning" by Steve Cole. He gave a nice, succinct summary, as well as why he considers it a comfort read.

When it was time for Kate to talk about her next pick (would it actually be a book this time??), I felt my shoulders tense as she went on and on about buying the entire set of "The Murder Most Unladylike Mystery Series" by Robin Stevens. Can't stand the voice with her vocal fry.

Can't do this one.

When a friend sends a book...

So, I found lots of reading buddies in my coworkers at Bentley Systems. David is going to GIFT me a signed Ann Patchett that his wife found at a thrift store, Gilda carted me all over Chester County, Pennsylvania to visit book stores, and Jim told me that I HAD to read a particular book that he loves.

Great, right?

Well, Jim sent me the book, "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. Amazon delivered yesterday. I thought I was going to have to get my wheelbarrow to get it in the house.

I even took pics!

I love a nice, thick read, but this one is really stout! As a matter of fact, it was not made into a television movie. It was not made into a theatrical release. It was made into a miniseries! That's commitment!

Here is the summary:
Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time—the twelfth century; the place—feudal England; and the subject—the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters—into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.

At once a sensuous and endearing love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age, The Pillars of the Earth is without a doubt Ken Follett's masterpiece.

Thanks, Jim! This is the next one on my list!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 3: Literary Disco

Literary Disco is hosted by three people (one woman and two men) who are "good friends who also happen to be huge book nerds." They are all writers, with one recently on the NYTimes best seller list.

This podcast is actually pretty fun! Of course, my luck prevails. You see, the last time they posted a podcast was in July with the hosts discussing summer reads.


Looking at the podcast history, it seems that the usual rate is once per month, so the fact that there has not been another in several months means that something is up. So, I go to the Facebook page. There is a post in July, then one in October promising a new post soon, then a repost of an article on author Dan Brown on November 1.

I think it's safe to say that I can cross this one off my list.

Monday, November 14, 2016

West Chester, Pennsylvania Bookstores

This is my reading friend Gilda. I asked her if she wanted to accompany me to Baldwin's Book Barn, and not only did she want to go, she also offered to DRIVE!! For this girl who hates to drive, that was a dream come true.

Coworker Meghan had told me about the book barn, and said that it was quite the destination. She was correct!

The book barn is an old converted dairy barn. It was converted to a book store in the 1940s, and floor-by-floor was transformed into the 5-level treat that it is now. It is quite well laid out, with clear maps available when you enter, as well as laminated maps at each of the stairs, and posted randomly on the ends of bookcases.

There are no new books here. They have thousands of used books, maps, and prints. In the lobby you will also find antiquarian, rare, and fine books. The website (link above) boasts that the barn is "stuffed to the rafters with a treasure trove of 300,000 used and rare books", and they are correct. Reminding me of local used books emporium, Booklegger, I found myself struggling to find something to purchase.

You see, old, dusty, and musty books are not really my thing. Because of the nature of the building, it is quite the visual treat, but impossible to keep a constant temperature, and book-killing moisture out of the air. However, I found a hardcover Haiku book which I bought because I simply could not leave empty handed.

I do heartily recommend a visit when you are in the area, if only for the experience. Choose a cool day so you will get to feel the soothing comfort of the woodstove, and give the cat a scratch when you happen upon him heaped in a cozy corner chair.

On our way back into the office, Gilda asked me if I wanted to pop into Wellington's Books, a locally owned independent bookseller very close to Bentley's location. YES! What incredible fun this treat of a book seller was. It reminded me quite a bit of Shop Around the Corner the movie "You've Got Mail", and I had to snap a photo.

The selections were grand, prices reasonable, and had the perfect combination of books, bookish items, and gifts for the reader. All-in-all, this was a very successful afternoon for my new friend and me!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison


Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.

In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.

When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.

As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding.

My take: 4 looks

As investigators delve gently into the experiences of Maya in what is known as The Butterfly Garden, a picture of a nirvana prison emerges. The Gardner is gentle and benevolent toward his perfect "butterflies", as long as each does as he asks. Unfortunately, his son Avery is not as gentle. At this point, it is worth note that there are numerous rapes and some torture scenes, but they are not overly described, and I did not find them outside the realm of the nature of the story.

Told in a narrative of flashbacks, investigators are not sure what role Maya played in the structure of this hellish Eden. She seems different from the others who were rescued, and they seem to turn to her as a mother figure. As her history emerges, woven in and out of her descriptions of her years at The Garden, a tragic, lonely, and eventually hardened young lady is born.

A very fast-paced and compelling thriller, I was hooked until almost the end. Without spoiling anything, the introduction of a surprise "guest" of The Garden at the end was both confusing and unnecessary. The story would have been purer, simpler, and scarier without this manufactured twist from the author. With this, this novel cannot be awarded a full 5 looks.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 2: All The Books

All the Books logo featured
BookRiot is a GREAT site for bibliophiles, so I have high hopes for this one!

Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky host All The Books book podcast. They are on Episode 79, which is clocked in at 36 minutes.

With just a touch of opening comments, the hosts jump right into book-talk. I was impressed! The first book discussed was Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce. Not only did I learn what it was about, but also why Rebecca loved it so much, commenting on the writing.

The second book was nicely segued into as the other host presented her first pick for the week, Virgin and Other Stories by April Ayers Lawson. Again, the host talked about the collection of short stories, as well as the undercurrents of the stories, and how they all come together to show the dark sides that all humans possess. A very nice commentary on the basics, with just enough to make the listening want more.

All said, fifteen books are discussed. If you visit the website of the podcast, you will find a link to each book, as well as a list of the books being read by each host, and books released in the current week.

The rapport of the hosts is good, and they do an excellent job of not going down rabbit holes and keeping the focus on books. Because I am a newbie, I couldn't tell with voice belong with which woman. However, one of them speaks in a breathless, almost whining voice that did not play well on my computer speakers. The content of her talk was more compelling than the downfall of her speech, so I am going to overlook it, for now.

All-in-all, this is a thumbs-up!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Podcast Crisis Part 1: The Readers

My Favorite book-conversation podcast, Books on the Nightstand, ended their several-year-run in July of this year.

Unfortunately, I had been listening only about six months, so I felt particularly disappointed they were ending, as well as robbed that I hadn't experienced more of them in the earlier years. The hosts were good enough to recommend a few other podcasts, which I decided to give a try. I was mostly left wanting.

Here is the problem: I don't care about the hosts' private lives. I don't care about their struggles, time constraints, or what their cat did last night. I don't want to know about their politics, a bumper sticker they saw, or what their kids are wearing for Halloween. I want to hear about books, authors, book events, and all things bookish. That's hard to find!

In an effort to spare you the pain, I am going to give you my take on several of the more popular bookish podcasts. Let me hear from you on your likes and dislikes!

The Readers podcast is up to episode 161 and is hosted by Simon and Thomas. Here is the summary of their Halloween episode: Thomas and Simon have a chat about what scares them, with a few spooky tales along the way, and which books they would recommend for other people to read as well as sharing the books that they would like to be reading this Halloween…

And therein lies the problem. I don't care what scares Simon and Thomas. I don't want to hear spooky tales. I do, however, want to know which books they would recommend for Halloween. In a podcast that is 45 minutes in length, there is not enough return on my investment of listening through rambling to get to the bookishness.

Here is another thing I didn't like: Thomas mentioned the novel "American Psycho". At the mention, Simon said, "Oooh, that's not scary, that's just vile." There are certainly books for which I didn't care, however, I would prefer not to have negative commentary to this extent. Especially about a book that is a violent commentary on how capitalism can create a monster. That alone garners a look.

So, I crossed this one off.

Next up: All The Books