Six of Crows

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

I did not have high hopes for this book–the Nook version was on sale and so I bought it. I like having a stash of books available on my phone for when I inevitably get stuck somewhere with only my phone and want to read. I was very pleasantly surprised, though, because this book is AMAZING.

Basically, this is the tale of criminals in a fantasy land who go on the heist to end all heists. The settings are interesting without being so complicated that I stop caring (see: Lord of the Rings); the plot is tightly woven and fast-paced; and the character development is top notch. I want to personally escort Kaz Brekker–the tough-as-nails mastermind behind the group–to a therapist. There’s some subtle nods to romance, but nothing overbearing. There are mentions of prostitution and slavery, but nothing  graphic. I would be comfortable letting a high school student read this book.

Oftentimes with group adventures like this, I find that there are certain groups of characters that I care a lot more about than others, but I thought all six of our heroes (or anti-heroes) were pretty captivating. Besides Kaz, there’s Inej who for being a mysterious teenage assassin/spy is also a constant source of peace and wisdom. Matthias and Nina are moody and unpredictable former enemies/lovers. Jesper is a good comedic foil who nevertheless has his own struggles and interests, including Wylan, the youngest of the bunch who really comes into his own over the course of the book.

The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the ending–it’s a cliffhanger that sets up the sequel. I need more resolution! But, really, that’s a good thing for the author . . . because now I’m going to buy the sequel (and probably anything else she’s written) just to get that itch scratched 🙂 Happy reading!

Beautiful Words #7

Some beautiful words for your week . . .

A mandarin fell in love with a courtesan. “I shall be yours,” she told him, “when you have spent a hundred nights waiting for me, sitting on a stool, in my garden, beneath my window.” But on the ninety-ninth night, the mandarin stood up, put his stool under his arm, and went away. (Roland Barthes; A Lover’s Discourse, Fragments)

“Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.” (Slamming Open the Door, Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno)

“Until there arrives a great master of the art of writing who will choose to invest the facts of Indian history with the glamour of literature, and make the truth more attractive than even history itself.” (Bloomsbury: A House of Lions by Leon Edel, quoting Lytton Strachey)

Excited to Read!

The third book in the John Dies At the End series by David Wong! It came out October 3rd; I’ve already downloaded a copy to my Nook and now I’m just waiting for the weekend when I can read it! The first two are amazing, if you haven’t read them yet — I’ve reviewed the first one already (here) and I’ll review the second one soon!

Some other new books I’m excited to check out:

  • Rhett and Link’s Book of Mythicality (my husband is obsessed with their podcast)
  • The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (love pretty much everything this lady writes)
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (I haven’t read anything from her, but I’m always attracted to good titles and this one is gorgeous)

What books are you excited about? Let me know below!

 

Beautiful Words #6

Some beautiful words for your week . . .

“No, war is never about killing the enemy. War is about remaking the world to suit the whims of some powerful group over the whims of some other powerful group. The dead are just the sparks that fly from the metal as they grind it down.” (This Book is Full of Spiders, David Wong)

“I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you.” (Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss)

“It’s a long hard road ahead for you, little warrior. Enjoy a happy day while you can.” (Martin the Warrior, Brian Jacques)

“It would be, for me, mere pointless pleasure, an illusion of order for this one frail, foolish, flicker-flash in the long dull fall of eternity.” (Grendel, John Gardner)

The Epiphany Machine

Title: The Epiphany Machine
Author: David Burr Gerrard
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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Although the description of the titular machine sounds like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel, this is really a book about humanity’s tolerance for self-awareness. There’s no real exploration of the magic or science behind the epiphany machine–in fact, the question of its origin and authenticity is left open. Certainly, the man who operates it has some control over it, as it eventually tells most New Yorkers that they are “stronger than terrorists” when its reputation wanes post-9-11.

Although the open questions about the machine are still bugging me, the book is absolutely complete (and probably better) without answering them. It follows Venter as a child whose parents used the machine because, as he perceives, they are “lonely, gullible and numb” to a young adult who becomes enamored with it and the knowledge he perceives it gives him. (In case you can’t tell from the cover, the “epiphany machine” is a tattooing device that gives you a personalized revelation on your forearm. The revelations are almost uniformly negative).

But the book doesn’t confine itself to people’s reactions to this tattooing device–instead, its a device that lets Gerrard explore the degree to which people can change (and whether they should) and the relative value of privacy vis a vis safety. I think its easy for authors who want to tackle big questions like that to err on the side of moralizing — of stacking the deck towards the argument they want to win and getting preachy about the conclusion they think you should draw. This book avoids that. Not only am I still pondering the machine’s possible origins, but I’m still not sure who I think is right about whether epiphany tattoos should be reported to the authorities.

What I am sure about is that this is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. If you’ve read it and have thoughts on the above, let me know! Happy reading!

Beautiful Words #5

Some beautiful words for your week . . .

“For a long time, the four of us sat in the living room in the kind of brittle silence I’d only ever felt in churches and libraries. The kind everyone is careful not to break.” (Tell The Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt)

“Imagine: you reach out towards the margin’s white hand

You do what your poems want and are clean

When you lay down your thorns you will be done

You do not take up arms against anyone”

(Praxis, Wendy Xu)

“Without even bothering to say goodbye, the Prock drew himself up to an immense height and then, as if being pulled by an invisible hand, he slid down to the floor in a single motion and disappeared through the crack under the door.” (The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Julie Andrews Edwards)

“I can’t steal things without two hands,” Eugenides said bitterly. “That’s why she cut one off.”
The queen of Attolia was only ever “she.” The name Attolia rarely passed his lips, as if Eugenides couldn’t bear the taste of the word in his mouth.
“There are a lot of things that a person with two hands couldn’t steal,” Eddis said.
“So?”
“Surely if it’s impossible to steal them with two hands, it’s no more impossible to steal them with one. Steal peace, Eugenides. Steal me some time.” (The Queen of Attolia, Megan Whalen Turner)

The Keeper of Lost Causes

Title: The Keeper of Lost Causes
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Translator: Lisa Hartford
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin Group (USA), Inc.)

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One of the first book series I ever got hooked on was the Nancy Drew books. Since then, I’ve been a sucker for any mystery book. Part of the fun, of course, is trying to figure out how everything goes together before the main character does and who, ultimately, is the bad guy. I’m not the best at guessing–probably for the same reasons I always fall for the unreliable–but I will say that this book kept me guessing until the end.

Even if you are a better detective than I am, I think you’ll still enjoy this book. The main character, Carl, is a unique take on the typical hyper-competent detective. He’s just returned back to work at the police station following a brutal attack that killed one of his partners and maimed another. His struggle to deal with his actions (or lack thereof) during the attack and the resulting fall-out with his colleagues makes for a pretty good sub-plot. There’s also his new assistant, Assad, who has a mysterious past and some innovative research ideas.

I thought Jussi Adler-Olsen did a good job of giving us insight into Carl’s thoughts and motivations without dragging down the plot –the pacing was excellent. Although it was originally written in Danish, the English translation I read flowed really well and it didn’t feel like reading a translation. My only caveat is: if you’re squeamish about violence or don’t like adult themes generally, you probably won’t enjoy this story. But if you want a grown-up mystery that doesn’t lean heavily on a manufactured love interest, I would definitely recommend this book! Happy reading!

 

Fictional Book Club: The Mermaid’s Daughter

Scene: a beautiful, old Chicago apartment. The white walls glow softly in the candlelight. There are two women on a worn, navy couch, another in a paisley armchair, and a fourth pouring white wine. A greyhound is lurking, waiting to make a run for the cheese and crackers on the coffee table.

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Lucy finished pouring the wine. “Ok, girls, the book this week is ‘The Mermaid’s Daughter’ by Ann Claycomb. Who wants to start?”

Silence. Naomi finally piped up, “I thought this was more of a let’s drink and hang out book club and less of a, let’s actually read the book, book club.”

Joanna rolled her eyes. “I called it. She’s the one who wouldn’t be prepared.” Claire and Lucy chuckled. “Okay, Naomi, here’s the quick and dirty version: The Little Mermaid–the creepy traditional one, not the Disney princess–passed a curse on to her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, etc., all the way to a modern day soprano studying to be an opera singer. She and her girlfriend and her father have to figure out how to stop it.”

Naomi interrupted. “I only know the Disney version–what curse?”

Claire picked up the thread. “So, she traded her voice for human legs, just like in the Disney movie. But it hurts her to walk — like walking on glass or something — and to get her voice, the sea witches actually cut out her tongue. So her daughter has a tongue, but it hurts like her tongue is missing and her feet still hurt. But the mermaid’s sisters feel bad for her so they trade their hair for a knife that can change the mermaid back if she uses it to kill the prince. So then, for the next however many generations, the mermaid’s descendant is given the knife by the witches and told the pain would stop if they killed their lover.”

“Did the sea witches bother anyone else?” Lucy asked. “Like, I know they’re an unreliable narrator but the more I think about it, the less I trust anything they said. Why in the world would the daughter have to kill her lover and not the prince’s descendant? The prince was super terrible and the reason she asked for legs in the first place, so I get why he needs to die but like, what did Harry do?”

“And how do you distinguish between like, your lifelong lover, and, hey this is college and I like you but who knows what we’ll happen when we graduate?” Joanna asked, pouring herself another drink. “God, there are some ex-boyfriends from college I would stab with the knife regardless of any curse!” She laughed, but Naomi–the only one who went to college with her–frowned. She knew exactly who Joanna was talking about and a knife would be too good for them.

“And how do they all have one daughter and that’s it?” Lucy laughed, smearing brie on her cracker. “Nobody had a son, or multiple kids or no kids? Ever?”

“Okay, critics,” Claire interrupted. “Yes, the book about a mermaid and witches isn’t scientific. But c’mon–it’s beautiful. I couldn’t put it down.” She slipped the dog, now begging at her feet, a piece of cheddar.

“Me either,” Lucy admitted, “But don’t feed Parker cheese, it makes him gassy.” Claire gave him an apology kiss on his furry head. “I was surprised, I think, to read a book that could so easily be a dramatic, romantic tragedy that is still pretty grounded – like, listen to this part:

“I know what I can do to try to tell Robin and Harry that I’m going to be okay, that I’ve gotten over myself. I’ll ask if we can go out to dinner. Someplace ridiculous, with a big list of flavored margaritas and food that’s terrible for you, like breaded zucchini and coconut fried shrimp. There’s nothing tragic about going out to dinner at a restaurant like that, and you can’t give up on life and eat something called a zucchini zircle all in the same night.”

Naomi laughed. “Here’s my contribution,” she said, typing on her phone. “I’m finding a recipe for zucchini zircle and that’s what we’ll eat next time. Now, can we talk about the Bachelor?”

Beautiful Words #4

Some beautiful words for the week . .

“You know, it’s funny; when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” (Wanda the Owl, Bojack Horseman)

“Time and space are not such separate entities as we tend to imagine. Days and places intersect, like walls joining together to make the house in which we dwell.” (Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, Christie Purifoy)

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.” (Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman)

“I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer. I will love you, as sure as He has loved me. I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me. And I will do this to my death and to death it may bring me. I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin of its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.” (Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, Donald Miller).

Read or Watch? The Magicians

In which I tackle the age-old question: which was better, the book or the movie?

Growing up, I always felt like this was a litmus test: if you had read the book before the movie and if you thought the movie didn’t live up to the book–or even better yet, couldn’t possibly have lived up to the book, then you had “nerd” credit. And if you didn’t, well, football team tryouts were next week. Good luck.

Obviously, I never tried out for football.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’m afraid I’d no longer pass that nerdy purity test with flying colors: sometimes the on-screen version is better than the paperback. And at the risk of alienating all of my bookworm readers, I’m going to start this series with an example of a TV show that I think surpassed the book its based on: The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

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I had originally read The Magicians on my Nook a while ago, but when I was at my local book store recently, I noticed it had an updated cover advertising its TV-counterpart airing on the ScyFy channel. I’m not a fancy cable person, but I found the first season of The Magicians on Hulu and skeptically started the first episode. And then binge watched the entire season. And then had the sickening feeling that I was betraying fellow book-lovers everywhere, because I’m pretty sure I like the on-screen version more than the on-page version.

Here’s why: the point of the book seems to be that life is terrible and hard and purposeless and even when you get what you think you’ve always wanted–magic is real! Fillory exists!–it’s actually terrible and heartless and it won’t fix you because you are inherently broken. Quentin, the main character, is a depressed high school student headed for an Ivy League college when he is granted admission to Brakebills, a prestigious school for magicians. He feels like his life is finally turning around–that maybe this is what he’s been waiting for his whole life–but then it turns out to be the hardest thing he’s ever done and, despite his tenacity in putting in the work, it turns out to essentially be a meaningless pursuit: magic is boring, Fillory is evil, his favs are problematic. Seriously, at least half of this book is a description of how hard and difficult things are even though Quentin is an Ivy League student who is brilliant and gifted. The rest is the author destroying his dreams.

Look, I get it: I’m a sucker for a good training montage and I certainly believe a lot of hard work goes into things that otherwise look like dream professions–but if I wanted to read about someone complaining, I’d go on Facebook.

The TV show, on the other hand, tightens up the plot significantly. While still overusing the term “Ivy League” nevertheless spends way less time on the arduous spiel in favor of more adventures. The characters are drawn into the central conflict earlier in their schooling, so we skip the post-school blues, which, again-I know it’s a real thing — but that doesn’t mean it’s entertaining to read about! The result is that the plot keeps moving, the characters continue to act with purpose and motivation–even when it’s a misdirected purpose or motivation–and the result is a more structured story that I thought was more engaging while still keeping the dark, gritty tone of the book.

Okay, your turn: do I have to turn in my nerd card now? What did you think of the book or the show? Burn me on the stake people!