Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

•January 2, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read this book, in print, on audiobook with Jim Dale as narrator, and also narrated by Stephen Fry. I finally read the illustrated version this time, and it was absolutely delightful. A perfect choice to start off the new year. The illustrations are gorgeous and I picked up new details in the story on this reread that I’ve managed to miss all the times before. It’s funny – I hear the sorting hat in Jim Dale’s voice, but I still read all of Snape’s lines in Alan Rickman’s voice and I probably always will. I was already in my 20s when this book was first written, so I definitely wasn’t the target audience, but I loved it then. I’ve loved every reread, and I do believe I will love it…always.

Sydney Noir

•January 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Sydney Noir

I was thrilled to receive an ARC of Sydney Noir from Akashic Books through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. As a long-time fan of film noir and a lover of classic, gritty crime novels such as Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain, I was positively giddy when I received the notice that I’d been selected, but this review reflects the merits of authors in this collection.

This collection of short stories, all based in Sydney, Australia, officially publishes on January 1, ,2019, so I’ve just managed to finish it prior to its book birthday. This is my second Akashic Noir collection and it is very different from Montana Noir, but equally as good. In fact, I think there may have only been one short story that I really didn’t care for, while the others were heart-breaking or horrifying, but ultimately satisfying.

Probably my favorite thing about this collection is its diversity, even within the noir theme. The authors are male and female, and include LGBTQ+ and indigenous people. Triggers abound in this collection, but I think if you’re reading a noir collection, you should already be prepared to encounter tales of drugs, murder, suicide, and all kinds of abuse, including sexual. This is in no way a “feel good” collection. In fact, it feels almost wrong to say I enjoyed it, but the writing is fantastic across the board. It’s evocative and engaging. I’m so impressed by how these authors are able to cram so much detail, and create such a complete story, in so few pages.

To be really thorough with this review and single out some of the best stories, I need to note that Eleanor Limprecht’s story “In The Dunes” is absolutely devastating. It was probably the hardest to read, subject-matter wise. Mandy Sayer’s “The Birthday Present”  and Mark Dapin’s “In the Court of the Lion King” both had incredible twists that I did not anticipate. “The Patternmaker” by Julie Koh, was probably my favorite tale in the entire collection, and it was one that left me speechless. “Slow Burn” by Gabrielle Lord was incredible, too.

The Akashic Noir series is definitely going to be bad for my TBR, as I want to search out the back list of many of these authors. If you have any interest in noir, crime novels, or just excellent writing, you can’t go wrong with this collection.

Montana Noir

•December 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I can’t remember where I first heard about the Akashic Noir series from Akashic Books, but as a lover of film noir and gritty crime stories, I knew I needed to try these books, even if I don’t typically enjoy short stories. I received Montana Noir as a Christmas present and all I can say is Wow! What a collection to start with!

Like most anthologies, the stories here are of varying degrees of interest to a single reader. I expected to enjoy maybe half of the fourteen entries. I would have counted that as a success. This collection blew me away. The first and last tales did not speak to me the way the others did, but if you cut them out, the twelve that remain are five-star reads. There’s sadness, poor decision-making, bad luck, and some incredible twists that I did not see coming.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll say no more, but if you enjoy noir at all, like short stories clustered around a central theme, or even if you just appreciate excellent storytelling, you can’t go wrong with Montana Noir. I don’t know how the rest of the series will compete, but I am definitely looking forward to reading them.

American Fire

•December 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The Book of the Month Curse is real! I have a ton of BOTM selections on my TBR shelves and with each one I attempt to read, my desire to read more decreases. The first two were “bails”. I couldn’t even finish them, I disliked them so much. This book, I had to finish because it was selected by a member of one of my postal book clubs.

This book has many elements with which I often struggle: dry historical background, small town politics, petty motivations. I liked the structure of the book – Hesse reveals the arsonist early on and intersperses the criminal’s story with chapters about Accomack County, the fires, and psychological profiles of arsonists. However, I didn’t care for her writing style, and the resolution to the crime, the guilty party, and the motive(s) just made me ill. It’s so petty and tawdry, I feel like I need a long, hot shower to wash the contamination away.

I confess that I switched to the audiobook version about a quarter of the way through because I was bored by the text. It was available through my library on Hoopla, so I didn’t have to waste an Audible credit, and for that I am grateful. Hooray for libraries! Sadly, I didn’t care for the narrator any more than I liked the text. I’d give this two stars out of five because it wasn’t horrible and does have some good points – I did enjoy the details on geoprofiling, for example – I just didn’t enjoy it as a whole.

The Feather Thief

•December 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is another #unpopularopinion, but I did not enjoy this book. In fact, the more I think about it, the less I like it. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by MacLeod Andrews and was frequently annoyed by his overacting. All those memes you see mocking William Shatner in Star Trek? They would suit this narrator. But, listening to the audiobook is the only way I even finished this story, as I can guarantee that I would have bailed on the print version.

I don’t know what I expected, if I even had detailed expectations. I knew nothing more about this than what you’d guess from the long subtitle. It was recommended to me as a choice to fill the PopSugar 2018 prompt for a book about a heist. It is that, at least ostensibly. The catalyst for this tale is the theft from the Tring museum in London of nearly 300 rare bird carcasses by a young musician with a passion for Victorian fly-tying (as in making lures for fly-fishing). What this book provides is excellent detail on Victorian era naturalists and conservation efforts. What this book also provides is more detail on women’s fashion history, particularly as it pertains to feathered millinery, and more information about fly-tying and the feather underground community than you could ever need. Feather underground community? Yes, apparently so. I now know more about fly-tying than I ever wanted to know.

One thing that continues to bother me hours after I finished the audiobook is just how critical the author is of the fly-tying hobbyists. He treats the entire community as if they were all a bunch of crooked people, intent on destroying bird species simply to recreate the fantastic works of art made in the Victorian era before wildlife conservation became “a thing”. Are there crazed, obsessive individuals in that community? Of course, just like there are obsessive, crazed fans of nearly any hobby. But to treat all fly-tying hobbyists as if they had personally stolen museum specimens, slaughtered birds in the Amazon, or purchased stolen goods, is not just wrong, it is irresponsible.

A Walk in the Woods

•November 20, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Allow me to preface this by saying this type of book is not usually my thing. Rarely do I enjoy memoirs or travelogues. I selected this audiobook because I needed something to fill travelogue and book about nature prompts for a couple of 2018 reading challenges. So, if you gravitate towards these kinds of books, don’t let me deter you from trying this one. It simply is not for me.

As you can see from the screenshot image, I listened to this at 1.75x speed. I’ve never listened to an audiobook this fast before and I did it simply because I couldn’t stand for it to drag on any longer. I needed to get through it and to do so quickly. There were a few moments of interesting history and commentary on the Appalachian Trail, the US Forest Service, and issues facing the land that Bryson hiked through. Unfortunately, those moments were brief and interspersed with unnecessarily cruel and mean depictions of the people that he encountered. I know he said he used false names for the people he described, but still. I think a liberal application of the Thumper Rule should have been used here (if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all). I was appalled by the caricature of Mary Ellen early on and that soured my view of the entire book. I gave this two stars on Goodreads, because there is some good history here, but it could have and should have been handled better.

The Black Khan

•November 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I will read anything Ausma Zehanat Khan writes. She is not only a skilled, talented author, but also an amazingly kind, generous, and thoughtful human being. If you’re looking for an unbiased, critical review of the second book in Khan’s epic fantasy series, The Khorasan Archives, you will not find that here. I am a devoted fangirl, and meeting Khan IRL is high on my bucket list, although I know I would likely be paralyzed with nerves should that ever happen.

I finished reading The Black Khan today and have spent the last hour trying to wrangle my thoughts together to form a coherent thread. I’m failing miserably. Thankfully, I added notes to Goodreads as I read, so I have a little help. The Black Khan is the sequel to The Bloodprint, which was released last year. It picks up right where the first book left off and starts with absolutely gut-wrenching action scenes. I spent much of my time reading with my fist between my teeth to keep from gasping or crying or yelling. The plot is dark and twisty and you’re never sure who to trust.

The major players from The Bloodprint are here, along with a large cast of new characters. The new characters are well-developed, each with his or her own set of complex motivations. They feel real. That is, perhaps, the best compliment I can give – this feels like a living history. You can see, smell, and hear everything that occurs on the page because Khan breathes life into her world. She carefully crafts this world in such detail that it plays like a film in the reader’s mind, but without getting so bogged down that it feels like a dry textbook. At the heart of The Black Khan is the magic of language, The Claim. Khan’s own use of language in her storytelling is just as magical.

While The Bloodprint introduces us to Khorasan and a world where women are subjugated by the Talisman, The Black Khan is even darker. Here we get an up close look inside the borders of the Authoritan’s lands of north of the Wall, his prisons, and systems of torture. We see the machinations of the courtiers in Rukh’s lands of West Khorasan, and get an even more detailed look at the inner workings of Hira. It’s dark and violent, but we also meet the resistance groups. The ending promises hope, and that is what will keep me reading. I’m sure there is more death, pain, suffering, destruction, and heartbreak to come, but there is also a light that offers hope, a promise of salvation for the people, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

This is a planned four book series. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like to start series until they are all finished, and I understand that. I do. I hate the wait between finishing a book and the publication of the next installment of the story of a year (or more). I have shed more than one tear over a press release stating a book’s publication date has been delayed. But allow me to throw a plug out there for all authors – even if you don’t want to start reading the series until all the books are written, buy the ones that are out now and buy the others as they are released. Authors are not guaranteed their subsequent novels will see the light of day, regardless of the plans they have for their fictional world, and publishers make those decisions based on sales of the previous  books. If everyone waited until the entire series was published, it would never happen. So, on behalf of one of my favorite authors and, in fact, on behalf of all authors, if you’ve read a blurb of a book that intrigues you and you are the kind of person who buys books, pick up a copy even if you don’t crack the cover until the story is complete. Help ensure we all get to hear the ending.