Friday, February 3, 2017

The Birthday Bonanza!

I chose to spend all of my birthday money on books, and it was glorious!

The big debate was whether or not to immediately start reading my birthday book haul because I still had the Telemair series from the library that needed to be read before the library wanted it back.  It was an oddly agonizing debate, one that was settled (more on this later) when I struggled to get through the third Telemair novel (I read the first two in the series a few months ago, and loved them.) because it committed the unpardonable sin of being, well, boring.

Beyond that, you may remember that one of my goals for 2017 was to tackle one book from the unfinished shelf/month.  I took some time to go through that shelf at the beginning of the year, and I pulled about 8 options and put them back on the active to-read shelf.  It's a start!

1. Aerie, Maria Dahvana Headley - Surprise!  A sequel to Headley's brilliant debut novel, Magonia, that I didn't know about!  I just happened to check her author page and discovered this, so it was added to the birthday haul and became the first book I chose to dive into because I was so very excited about it.  Aza and Jason are up there in my personal list of favorite literary couples, and the world that Headley has created for them is so very unique that it makes my heart sing.  I don't honestly know if Magonia needed a sequel, and as sometimes happens the sequel wasn't quite up to the perfection of its predecessor, but by the end it had won me over.  I would have been totally ok if it had never existed, but it did wrap up a lot of loose ends (that hadn't bothered me before) and it allowed me to spend more time with Aza and Jason.  Besides, Headley's language is gorgeous...a real treat!

2.  If I Were Your Girl, Meredith Russo - Truth be told, this is the one book that wasn't at all on my radar.  I discovered it because it wound up on a bunch of Best of 2016 lists, and was subsequently placed on the itunes sale page.  I read the entire book during the course of one insomniac night, and it was beautiful.  As an LGBTQ ally, I think this book should be required reading as it portrays the life of a transgender girl.  It's also a very relatable story of first love, and I found myself reliving my own teen years and my own first love as I was carried through the story.  Absolutely beautiful.  Also, the dedication and the notes at the end are must-reads as well.

3.  White Jenna and 4. The One Armed Queen, Jane Yolen -  These are the second and third book in Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark trilogy.  I fell in love with the first book a few months ago because not only did it contain an excellent plot, original ideas, and interesting characters, but also because Yolen sprinkled the story with myth, legend, song, and scholarly history reports about the world she had created....showing brilliantly how truth is distorted and changed depending on who's telling the tale and how.  That first book was brilliant.  Unfortunately, neither the second nor the third quite lived up to it.  I enjoyed the second...and wound up skimming the third as quickly as possible.  The first two books work together to tell Jenna's story, but the third is about her kids, and I quite frankly didn't find any of them nearly as compelling as their parents.  Also, by that time the myth/legend/story device had grown a little bit old, although I did appreciate the humor in the letters by the historian.  Still glad I read them all, though.

5.  The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson - This is another book that I found via the Best of 2016 lists, this time the 2016 NPR Book Concierge.  (Look it up, it's great fun!).  I've read Johnson before, and loved her, and was captivated by the book description in the Concierge...so I snapped it right up.  This is a very slim book which was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.  I've not read the Lovecraft original (I recommend checking out the Wikipedia entry if you haven't.  It's not neccessary to read it to enjoy this book, but it is fun to find out where much of the inspiration came from.)  I loved every minute of it.  There's a lovely, dream-like quality to Johnson's book that manages to carry the story along without becoming lost in the poetry of the language.  It was also very nice to read a book about a 55 year-old, fully-actualized woman.  Not only is she an amazing character, but she also provided a nice counterbalance to everything else I read this month.  The portions of the book where she sat down and reminisced were poignant, and taken with the YA novels I've been reading led me to some sweet remembrances of my own past.

Which leads me to the library book mentioned earlier:
6.  Black Powder War, Naomi Novik (Telemair, book 3)  - The first two books in this series were among the most delightful dragon books that I've ever read, charming and funny and unique.  It was all I could do not to rush out and buy the full series!  Being practical about the cost, however, I waited...and then checked the entire remaining series out from the library in December.  And....well...book 3 proved to be horribly boring.  Nothing exciting happened until about half way through the book, much of it felt like it was written to just move players around the board, and (truth be told) I realized I just don't have the stomach right now to read about war of any sort (Napoleonic, in this case.) I managed to finish the third book, but honestly don't know if I'll go back and read the rest (6 more)...which is sad, given how very much I loved the first two books.

And then I tackled my January "Unfinished" book:
7.  Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamott - Church was canceled for the third Sunday of the month because of winter weather, so I decided to return to this little book on the three essential prayers.  (Also, I'd like to get back to my Sunday morning practice of reading a book that is nourishing to the soul...and this did the trick nicely.)  It's a beautiful reflection, one which drew me to the famous Thomas Merton prayer...which cracked my heart wide open in a really good way. Sometimes a book just needs to find its when to mean something to you.

Back to the birthday fun!
8.  The Just City, Jo Walton - I absolutely adore Jo Walton, and was so excited to purchase her Just City trilogy with my birthday money.  In fact, these were the first books I selected when I turned myself loose in my wish list!  The Just City really tugs on my heartstrings because it reconnects me with one of my first loves - Greek mythology.  That love eventually led me to a minor in the classical Greek language, which included a whole lot of classics courses in college.  However, it's been 20 years since I read Plato....and after this book I feel like I need to dig it out of storage and read it again!  I agree 100% with the reviews of this book which call it a thought experiment.  It is that, and it is beautifully done.  Walton's idea of the gods is pretty genious, and true to my understanding of them, and the Platonic ideal that she builds is both well-thought out and very natural in how it plays out.  Will be reading the second and third books as soon as possible!

9. Cinder, 10. Scarlet, 11. Cress, 12. Winter, Marissa Meyer -  We're going to blame this on a friend of mine, who happens to be the world's best librarian by profession.  She's so wanted me to read Cinder that she decided I needed it for Christmas.  Only the bookstore didn't have a hardback, so she gave me a gift card and loaned me her beloved copy.  I laughed myself silly, and promised to read it asap.   My friend was totally right.  I loved Meyer's take on four very classic fairy tales as she very carefully wove the important elements into a very modern/futuristic plot.  True, I spotted the 'twists' a mile away, and I'm not usually fond of series that leave each book with giant clifhangers.  I'll forgive Meyer for both because she did such an incredible job of making me need to know what happened next.  I hadn't intended to read straight through the series, but I quite simply couldn't help myself!  For added fun, I checked the books out from the library in audio form, and for two of the books I swapped back and forth from audio to print as time allowed.

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