Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Reading, Part 1 - JUNE!

I love summer reading, but it is often no different than regular reading.  After all, I read a lot....and I read all of the time...and I tend to stick within certain guidelines as to what I read.

This summer, though, I have a plan.  Which is:
  1. To read a major series each month.  
  2. To read one short story collection/month.  Pretty simple...I have three books of short stories that are just sitting in my pile because I tend to pass over them in favor of full length novels.  But they are amazing books.  And I want to read them.  (Check that, it's more like four or five short story collections...whoops...this may need to last through the fall.)
  3. To read all of the books on my to-read ibooks shelf. It's actually totally doable given my average number of books/month that I usually read.  
  4. To buy NO NEW BOOKS until I've caught up on that to-read pile.  My one caviat - It's now my habit to read something to help improve myself on Sunday mornings.  I read these books very slowly - a chapter/week - and I don't have a stockpile of them, so I will allow that purchase if need be.  
  5. To also - with a couple of exceptions below - avoid library books while I read the things I own already.  Love the library, but I have plenty on my shelves right now!  
And June I read:

My trilogy:

1.  The Passage (audio),  --.  The Twelve, 2. The City of Mirrors, Justin Cronin - The other two series I plan on reading this summer are in book bundles that I bought a while back and just hadn't had time to get to yet.  (Preferring to read them when I had time to read them in one fell swoop.)  This is different.  I actually first read The Passage years ago after hearing about it on Books on the Nightstand.  I was totally blown away, and remember waiting not so patiently for The Twelve to be released.  I devoured it as well.  Quite frankly, this was one of the best new series I'd found in ages.  I was totally blown away by Cronin's world and storytelling abilities, and I was utterly enchanted by the origin story of these books...which is that Cronin's daughter asked him to write about a girl who saved the world.

I preordered The City of Mirrors just as soon as that was an option...and made sure to clear my reading so that I could pounce on it as soon as it arrived in my inbox.  And then it did.  And I read a few pages.  And damn's been over three years since the last book came out, and even though I remember the books better than most I realized I would enjoy this final book more if I read through the entire trilogy.  (I even looked up the synopsis on Wikipedia...yeah, I wanted the entire reading experience.)

So I decided to listen to the audio of The Passage because I've been really craving a good audiobook.  There's just nothing like having someone tell you a good, long story.  (36.75 hours...although I sped it up a bit.)  The reader was excellent, and I was actually shocked with just how well I remembered it.  That is the sign of a really good book! I only made it about 2/3 the way through, though, before I realized that life is too short and I just flat out didn't have the time to listen to the rest of it right now.  AND, I didn't want to read the second book (which really wasn't near as good as the first, and had - now that I was remembering things - actually dissapointed me a bit)  So, I...I decided to cut this series short

...and went ahead and read City of Mirrors.

To my delight (and I admit, to my relief as well), City of Mirrors was an excellent conclusion to the series.  As I expect from Cronin's writing, it was the sort of engrossing storytelling that refuses to allow you to set the book down.  True, I rolled my eyes at one or two plot points....some things were a little too convenient....but by and large I feel satisfied with how Cronin wrapped up his story.  The last book in a series can be a little fraught - as in please, dear writer, don't do anything that's going to leave me feeling angry, unsatisfied, annoyed, incomplete, etc - but this particular book was an excellent conclusion!

Having Not Really Read The Full Series, A Bonus:

3.  Lady of the Forrest and 4. Lady of Sherwood, Jennifer Roberson - Lady of the Forrest is an old favorite of mine which I purchased in hardback way back in '92 when it was first published.  I'm a sucker for a good Robin Hood story!  I'd discovered years later that there was a sequel, but it proved to be very difficult to track down.  When I finally found a copy, I was horrified by the bodice ripper cover it had....which is maybe part of why I never got around to reading it.  (Both books are now easily available in ebook format with matching, simple covers.)  I found myself watching a few Robin Hood movies this month, and that turned my attention back to these books, which have been on my to-read shelf in my bedroom for years.  Can't read the sequel, after all, without rereading the first!  And it had been a very, very long time.

Jennifer Roberson was once upon a time one of my favorite female fantasy writers, and I have almost all of the books she's ever written - including two major series and a collaboration with two other amazing women writers.  I adore her, and I adore her books. Which isn't to say that they are perfect....and it isn't to say that upon reading this book in a very different stage of my life I found every thing exactly as I remembered it.

Lordy.  Lady of the Forrest is LOOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG.  It's 600 pages with a plot that moves very, very slowely.  I get it.  Roberson's Robin Hood is more character study than adventure novel.  Actually, that's a lot of what I love about it.  But could easily have trimmed 150 pages and still have been amazing.  I'm also going to confess a very large amount of frustration with Roberson's style in this book, which is to break up the narrative with each character into fairly small chunks and then constantly bounce around between the different characters.  I don't remember feeling this way when I first read it, but this time I found the book to be disjointed and abrupt...and thoroughly hard to get into.

The story...I still love.  Roberson's version of our characters...I adore.  There is that.

After that, it was hard to get into Lady of Sherwood.  (and that awful, awful cover...sigh.)  Honestly, meh.  I could have taken it or left it.  While it was blessedly much shorter, it still had the problem with the short sections that bounced back and forth between characters.  Part of me feels like I could cut and paste this into a better book just by linking up those sections into longer pieces.

Ah well.  I'm still a sucker for a good Robin Hood story!

My Short Story Collection:

5.  The Paper Menagerie, Ken Liu - Liu's story, The Paper Menagerie, was the first work of fiction to win the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards all in the same year.  It was such a big deal that the publisher made it available for free online.  I remember reading it....tears flowing through the entire piece.  Thus, I had to get this book.  Truth be told, not all of it was my cup of tea.  I'm really not for example, much of a scifi girl...and lots of it was scifi.  However, there were a few stories that were so beautiful that they still haunt me - The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species and State Change among them.  Will it go down as one of my favorite collections?  Probably not.  Am I glad I read it?  Absolutely.

The Rest:

6.  Roses and Rot, Kat Howard - I found Howard's debut novel through a list of up and coming fantasy novels that was posted on the Huff Post Books page, and decided to take a chance by preordering it.  When it arrived and I saw that Neil Gaiman had put the blurb on the cover....well, I rushed to read it.  This is the second debut novel that I've read in the last year that had a Neil Gaiman stamp of approval, and my oh my...he was sooooo right about both books!  In my heart I love fairy tales most of all, and this was a real, honest to goodness fairy tale in the truest sense.  It's the story of two sisters who go to a reclusive artists' colony.  There were elements of many of the oldest tales in here, and I rejoiced at all of those details. It shares much with Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, another of my great favorites.  Loved it.  Love, love, loved it.

7.  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami (audio) - I absolutely love listening to books about running while I run.  I think this is rather hilarious.  I'm not actually a fan of Murakami's.  For whatever reason, I've been unable to read any of his books...although I have tried.  I was utterly charmed by this exploration of his running life/writing memoir though.  It's a short book, and well worth it.

8.  Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People, Nadia Bolz-Weber - I first heard of Bolz-Weber via the OnBeing podcast, and was blown away by her interview.  Here's a woman who lives the type of faith I aspire to...who believes in the type of loving God who I was raised to believe in.  When I found out she would be speaking at SPEC this summer...that I would have the opportunity to hear her in person....well, I ran out and bought her latest book right away.  Ordinarily, I savor such books a bit at a time on Sunday mornings, and that was my intent here....but I wound up blasting through it in a single day, crying through sections.  It's an excellent read, with a powerful message.

9.  Last Song Before Night, Ilana C. Myer - I just couldn't get around the ridiculously heavy overly dramatic forshadowing and the following sentence: "Light assaulted her in the vast room:...from wineglasses reflecting light like a thousand flashes of bared teeth."  I tried.  I gave it another 40 pages beyond that.  Apparently my ability to pick out amazing now writers/books is not unfallable.  Irony alert....Myer wrote the article that recommended Roses and Rot to me.

10.  Mighty Be Our Powers; How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation At War, Leymah Gbowee  - Gbowee is the recipient of my church's 2016 International Peace Award, and as such she attended our World Conference this spring, where my 13 year old daughter got to meet her.  My father first told me about her after she was announced as the winner, and had gone on and on about her book.  I knew that it was going to be difficult to get through.  Even though I know it had a happy ending, I didn't really want to read of the real life horrors Gbowee went through during the war in Liberia.   I'm glad I did, though.  Gbowee is an amazing, amazing woman and the story she tells is truly powerful.  Excellent book.

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