Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

Bibliophiles! It is time again for the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon! I just finished reading Drums of Autumn, which is the fourth book in the series. I won’t include any spoilers for this novel, but the post may include spoilers if you aren’t up to this point in the series.

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First, a quick summary, courtesy of DianaGabaldon.com:

DRUMS OF AUTUMN is the fourth book in the OUTLANDER series, following VOYAGER.  Here Claire and Jamie, with Jamie’s nephew Young Ian, seek to find a place for themselves in the colony of North Carolina, treading a dangerous line between Governor Tryon’s patronage and Claire’s knowledge of the brewing revolution in America, between the help of Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta, last of his MacKenzie kin (“MacKenzies are charming as larks in the field–but sly as foxes with it.”) and the unwanted obligations of her slave-run plantation.  As they find mountain land and begin to build their first cabin, their newfound life is bittersweet, with the thought Brianna–the daughter Claire has left behind, the daughter Jamie will never see–always near.

Brianna is thinking of her parents, too.   And she’s discovered something dangerous in the historical record; a notice of a fatal fire on Fraser’s Ridge.   The time-traveler’s ultimate dilemma raises its head once again:  can the past be changed?   If it can…what’s the price?

Roger MacKenzie has found the same newspaper notice–and after some soul-searching, has decided not to tell Brianna about it, not wanting her to risk her life for what may be impossible.   She doesn’t tell him, either–and his first inkling that she’s found that notice is a shipment of boxes from Brianna, containing her family memorabilia and a note reading, “Everybody needs a history.   This is mine.  Please look after it ’til I come back.”

Roger follows Brianna into the past, where she has gone on a quest to save her parents’ lives, and upon discovering that she has sailed for America, he takes ship himself…with a Captain Bonnet.

How does time-travel work?  Who can pass the stones, and how?  What are the risks?  And what would make those risks worth taking?   Only love.

I have some mixed feelings about this novel. One, it was a much slower-to-start book than its counterparts in the series. It just drug on for a bit. I wasn’t sure where the story was even going to go. But at the same time, I loved the change of scenery! How cool to feel like you’re part of taming the American wilderness! It also kept the story from being too repetitive. No more England vs. Scotland focus. Instead, Jaime and Claire had a chance to rediscover each other and re-build their relationship. They had space and time and an opportunity to define their lives. But of course, there was still plenty of struggle in the book to keep the reading exciting! There were Native Americans, political intrigue, and of course, the natural elements!

Following this series, I figured at some point Brianna would time-travel as well, and it was exciting to finally witness her journey in this novel. I felt pain for her sufferings (which I will not currently expose), but I also admired her strength of will and sense of independence. Also, I appreciated how there were parallels between the Brianna-Roger relationship and the Claire-Jaime relationship, without it being overbearing and tedious.

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One of my favorite things about this entire series has been the idea of testing true love. After all the trials and hardships these characters have endured, it’s amazing that they still find solace and comfort in each other. I think it’s uplifting and I enjoy reading their stories for it.

Finally, a couple of my favorite quotes from Drums of Autumn:

“By blood and by choice, we make our ghosts; we haunt ourselves.”

“…a witness that enduring love was possible, a love strong enough to withstand separation and hardship, strong enough to outlast time.”

Until next time, bibliophiles….

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

Hiya, bibliophiles!

I recently finished listening to City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. Let’s just launch right into it. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon:

New York City, 1976. Meet Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city’s great fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by downtown’s punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbor—and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve.

The mystery, as it reverberates through families, friendships, and the corridors of power, will open up even the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the blackout of July 13, 1977, plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives will be changed forever.

City on Fire is an unforgettable novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock ’n’ roll: about what people need from each other in order to live . . . and about what makes the living worth doing in the first place.

I thought this novel was, for the most part, interesting and engaging. In particular, I loved how the different story lines intertwined together. That’s one of my favorite “types” of books: starting out with separate perspectives or characters and watching as they grow towards each other. I’m also a big fan of exploring complex, dysfunctional families, so listening to the dirty deeds and stuffy struggles of the Hamilton-Sweeneys was right up my alley.

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HOWEVER, City on Fire didn’t suck me right into the story. It felt very “written”, rather than a natural flow of thoughts (if that makes any sense). The writing could be a bit stiff and forced at times. Plus, I had a hard time getting into the punk scene. I don’t love punk rock and was not familiar with a lot of the bands the author insisted on mentioning over and over. I think it would have been more meaningful if the author had quoted lyrics or described how the music made the characters feel more than just name-dropping.

Overall, City on Fire was intriguing, but I didn’t connect much with any of the main characters. I found it hard to settle into the setting of the story and sometimes the writing was too formal, bringing me out of the story and making me think more of the author than the characters. It wasn’t a bad novel and I didn’t dislike it, but I don’t think I’ll be recommending it anytime soon, especially given that it was almost a 40-hour read.

Until next time, bibliophiles….

The Humans by Matt Haig

Hey bibliophiles! I’m been MIA for a couple weeks, so prepare for the blog post waterfall as I start to catch up! Where have I been? Well…..drumroll…..I adopted a fur baby! I didn’t talk about it on my blog, but a few months ago, my husband and I had to say goodbye to our beloved Ender, our German Shepherd. We were finally ready to welcome a new best friend into our home and hearts and so we adopted Aspen! He’s an 8 year old Great Pyrenees who is the sweetest, laziest, cuddliest pup ever!

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Anyways, on to the book review! I finished reading The Humans by Matt Haig last week. It was an awesome read: very fast, insightful, and thought-provoking. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon:

When an extra-terrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor is eager to complete the gruesome task assigned him and hurry home to his own utopian planet, where everyone is omniscient and immortal.

He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, their capacity for murder and war, and is equally baffled by the concepts of love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this strange species than he had thought. Disguised as Martin, he drinks wine, reads poetry, develops an ear for rock music, and a taste for peanut butter. Slowly, unexpectedly, he forges bonds with Martin’s family. He begins to see hope and beauty in the humans’ imperfection, and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

This novel is equal parts comedic and heart-wrenching. Throughout The Humans I went from laughter to near tears. You find yourself both repulsed by and rooting for the visitor that is now Professor Andrew Martin. You want him to fail at his mission, and yet it’s hard to disagree with his logic. Essentially, you experience this intense dichotomy throughout reading the entire book!

What I loved most was the author’s ability to describe an everyday object or event from such an outside perspective. Much of the time, you start to read his description, wondering in your head, “What in the world is he talking about?!” But as he continues, it clicks and you realize what it is he’s talking about. It was an eye-opening experience, because it made me reconsider different actions or objects that I use and how ridiculous they may seem to someone of a different culture!

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The Humans was chock full of spectacular quotes, but here’s just a key few and one long, but perfect one:

“Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth, you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.”

“Because the possibility of pain is where love stems from.”

“And I knew the point of love right then. The point of love was to help you survive.”

“She said being human is being a young child on Christmas Day who receives an absolutely magnificent castle. And there is a perfect photograph of this castle on the box and you want nothing more than anything to play with the castle and the knights and the princesses because it looks like such a perfectly human world, but the only problem is that the castle isn’t built. It’s in tiny intricate pieces, and although there’s a book of instructions, you don’t understand it. Nor can your parents or Aunt Sylvie. So you are just left, crying at the ideal castle on the box, which no one would ever be able to build.”

I know that last one is lengthy, but if that doesn’t perfectly describe the struggle of life, then I don’t know what does.

My advice for a human:

  1. Find a comfortable spot: a cozy bed, a warm stretch of sun, etc.
  2. Read this book immediately!

Until next time, bibliophiles….

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

 

Hey again, bibliophiles!

I’m going to warn you now, this post might get a bit emotional! I finished listening to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. This novel is not only a new favorite of mine, but it is a tear-jerker, which was a struggle because since I listened to the audiobook, I had to fight back tears while driving most of the time. Still, even if you don’t usually reach for emotional reads, this book may just be worth it is totally worth it! I’ll include a short synopsis below, but let me sum it up this way: it’s Pixar’s Up but for adults and with a bit of a darker side. Oh, plus, grouchy old man humor.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

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This is a fast, quick read! It will keep its hooks in you until the very end, and then some. I don’t typically listen to my audiobooks outside of driving or doing chores, but I couldn’t turn this one off. The writing is amazing: detailed, funny, satirical, surprising, and engaging all at once. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.”

“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.”

“Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.”

I highly, highly recommend this book to all! BUT, be prepared for the feels my friends!

Until next time, bibliophiles…

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Hello again (so soon, I know), bibliophiles!

My book club read this month was Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Part chick lit, part historical fiction, and part drama, the premise of the novel is based on true events, although the characters are not, as far as I know. The title really sums it up; orphans, usually immigrants, in the 1920’s New York world are transported by train to the west to find foster/adoptive parents. While babies typically found loving homes, older children were essentially collected to be used as free labor.

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The story flashes between two perspectives: that of Molly, a modern day (2011) foster child completing 50 hours of community service by helping an old woman clean out her attic as punishment for stealing a library book and that of Niamh, an orphan aboard the train in 1929. Both girls are strong-willed, but face unfortunate circumstances. The parallels between the two stories is extremely strong and the symbolism is meaningful.

This is one of those books that has emotional meaning, but you don’t have to dig deep down to find it. It doesn’t take years of analysis to understand the themes of family, resilience, and loneliness in this novel. Ultimately, the story was fairly predictable, but it was still quite touching. In all honesty, after putting it down, I was like, “Hmmm…maybe it’s time to become a foster mom!” Doubtful for now, but maybe someday….

My favorite quote from the novel:
“Time constricts and flows, you know. It’s not evenly weighted. Certain moments linger in the mind and others disappear.”

All told, I enjoyed the Orphan Train and would recommend it to women of all ages. It’s one more book to cross off my TBR list and I loved being able to share thoughts and discussion at my book club.

Paris: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd

Well bibliophiles,

I’m a couple days behind. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to write a blog post as soon as I finished a novel (or maybe the next day if I stayed up late to finish). Anyways, let’s hope this was just a brief jump from the track. I recently finished Paris: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd, a 38 hour long audiobook. Here’s a quick sort-of synopsis from Amazon:

From Edward Rutherfurd, the grand master of the historical novel, comes a dazzling epic about the magnificent city of Paris. Moving back and forth in time, the story unfolds through intimate and thrilling tales of self-discovery, divided loyalty, and long-kept secrets. As various characters come of age, seek their fortunes, and fall in and out of love, the novel follows nobles who claim descent from the hero of the celebrated poem The Song of Roland; a humble family that embodies the ideals of the French Revolution; a pair of brothers from the slums behind Montmartre, one of whom works on the Eiffel Tower as the other joins the underworld near the Moulin Rouge; and merchants who lose everything during the reign of Louis XV, rise again in the age of Napoleon, and help establish Paris as the great center of art and culture that it is today. With Rutherfurd’s unrivaled blend of impeccable research and narrative verve, this bold novel brings the sights, scents, and tastes of the City of Light to brilliant life.

Okay, you should know I’m really torn about this book. Let’s start with the positives. This was a journey, an amazing, detailed, literary journey. There was amazing character development, titillating plot twists, and mind-blowing set description. It truly made me want to travel to Paris, like ASAP, which is nearly impossible currently (but someday maybe). The historical fiction bit was pleasant and the narrator did an amazing job, pronunciation and all. In fact, for quite a while I didn’t realize they were talking about the Eiffel Tower because it is pronounced so differently from how I naturally pronounce it. Little experiences like that were what really kept me hooked.

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On the other side, this was a journey, a confusing, jump-around-y, literary journey. (You see what I did there? See how I set up that parallel?) For the life of me, I could not keep the different families that the story followed straight. Part of that was the audiobook format itself, I think. When I don’t see names, it’s harder to hold them in my head; it’s just part of being a visual learner. Another piece to it was that there were SO MANY characters. Character overload, many referred to similarly since they shared last names (family names) and sometimes the same title as well. Finally, the book jumped around in time, seemingly randomly, making it even harder to keep track of the characters. I don’t know how to impress upon you guys that it was really difficult to keep everyone straight; who was in what family, who was who’s parents, who married who. I even looked up the family trees to see if it would help…it didn’t really. Probably about half-way through (which is a long time for a 38-hour book) I was catching on to the family members. But even then, the novel would throw me for a loop when it would jump back a hundred years and then forward several years and so on.

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Overall, I would recommend this to historical fiction buffs or readers who love literary journeys, but are capable of letting go of specific details, and won’t stress about remembering every character. I honestly, couldn’t tell you what exactly happened in this book big picture-wise, but for the most part, I really enjoyed listening to it. This has probably been one of the most ambivalent reading/listening experiences for me to date.

Until next time, bibliophiles…

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Part One

Hey bibliophiles!

Before I get started on the series I’ve been reading, I want to take a minute to talk about favorite reading times and places. Of course I love to read everywhere, and I do mean EVERYWHERE, but there are some times of day and certain places that just making reading that much more pleasurable. Here are two of my favorites from the last couple days.

  1. Those mornings when I go out into the yard with my pup and let him run around while I enjoy a cup of coffee and read a chapter.

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  2. Sitting by the fire place, warming my toesies, and turning some pages.

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YES, FINE, YOU GOT ME. Maybe I also wanted to bring this up so I could post some pictures of my dog! Regardless, I’m telling the truth that some niches for reading are a notch above the rest. What are your favorite locales or times for reading?

All right, into the subject at hand. I have been reading my way through Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Before delving into the content, let me just say that reading children’s literature can be a nice change of pace. The story is what it is; you don’t have to dive deep to unearth special meanings or anything like that. Also, it’s a quick read. Each of the thirteen books can be read in a day or two (depending on the adult things you’re required to do in between reading sessions). Plus, PICTURES. Why can’t we have more pictures in adult fiction?

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However, even though these are a bit tame in plot and vocabulary, you can still get a kick out of some of the jokes and/or names that the author uses. There were many references that as I child I’m sure I missed, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing as I reread these books. For instance, pictured above you can see the Baudelaire children, the protagonists, sitting on Damocles Dock. As a reminder to anyone who might have forgotten, Damocles’ Sword is symbolic of forthcoming danger. The author doesn’t particularly touch on the story of Damocles, but just seeing it incorporated into the story as a small detail really drives home the thought that went into the story line, regardless of how childish the plot may be.

Now for the good stuff, what’s actually going on in these books. No spoilers, don’t worry. So far, I have read the first six books of the series:

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The Bad Beginning – In the opening novel, you are introduced to the Baudelaire children: Violent, Klaus, and Sunny. Each has a particular set of skills that will help them on their perilous journey. Violet is an inventor, Klaus an excellent reader and researcher, and Sunny (just an infant, but a brilliant and capable one at that) has teeth stronger than any person or animal I’ve ever known. In this book, the Baudelaires learn that their parents died in a fire that burned down their mansion. Mr. Poe, a banker and family friend, has been put in charge of their care and the care of their large fortune that will come to them when Violet, the oldest, comes of age. Mr. Poe places the children under the care of Count Olaf, a treacherous and greedy jerk who seeks to steal their fortune. Dangerous hi-jinks ensue.

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The Reptile Room – As you will see a pattern emerges. In each books, the children are moved from guardian to guardian as terrible things continue to happen. As they move, the horrendous Count Olaf follows, causing chaos, and attempting to entrap the Baudelaires and get his nasty hands on their fortune.

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The Wide Window
– Again, the children escape from Olaf (not really a spoiler, this happens repeatedly), but are once more placed with an inadequate guardian. Something interesting about these books is that it really nails how children feel ignored so often by adults. Adults discount the emotions, intelligence, and intuition of children all the time, even when something obvious is staring them in the face.

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The Miserable Mill
– Have you noticed yet that I’ve stopped summarizing each individual book? Sorry. I just don’t want to be repetitive or give too much away for each one. Suffice it to say though that these books are all interesting and the story continues!

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The Austere Academy – Here is where the plot really begins to thicken and mature. The Baudelaires meet the Quagmires, children whose situation is oddly similar to theirs. The Quagmires begin to research Olaf’s past and discover VFD. What is VFD? The Quagmires don’t get a chance to explain it to the Baudelaires before something atrocious happens.

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The Ersatz Elevator
– Can the Baudelaires unravel all of this confusing mystery? Connections begin popping up everywhere. They find a secret passage that leads directly to their burned down home, VFD continues to pop up, but without an explanation, and the Quagmires are in mortal danger. As some questions are answered, more and more questions sprout to take their place. We can only hope that all of them will be answered in the books to come.

Well, that’s all I have for now. Keep an eye out for Part Two!!

I’m Not Lying That I Loved We Were Liars

Hello Bibliophiles!

For some un-understandable (yes, I made up that word) reason, I tend to store up all my posts for two weeks and then post a few things at once. I’M SORRY! I just get excited about reading and run through books!

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart was a short, intriguing, and kind of beautiful young adult novel. The story is centered around Cadence Sinclair Eastman and her wealthy, but troubled family. Throughout the book, you jump backwards and forwards to different summers that their family spend at a private island. Something happened to Cadence one summer and she can’t remember anything from that summer. The book is her journey through her memories to discover what tragedy occurred.

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Meanwhile, you get an inside view into the troubling relationships within Cadence’s family: a rich, racist grandfather who’s also manipulative, an emotionally repressive mother, bratty cousins, argumentative, greedy aunts. I guess the old saying is true: everyone has problems.

I don’t like spoilers, so I won’t tell you what happens in the end, but suffice it to say I was genuinely surprised. Like my mouth was open and I had to reread the page to understand what just happened. I recommend this novel to anyone that likes young adult drama.