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I'm a mood reader so pick up whatever strikes my fancy at the time, and therefore I don't plan my reading so no real book goals for 2019 other to maybe get through a few more books than I have been.
Wrapped Up In You by Jill Shalvis
Generation Rent by Shamubeel Eaqub
Becoming by Michelle Obama
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Shark Attack: Myths, Misunderstandings and Human Fear by Blake Chapman
The Core by Peter V. Brett
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Educated by Tara Westover
Karori Confidential: Selected columns by Leah McFall
The Travelling Vet: From pets to pandas, my life in animals by Jonathan Cranston
Circe by Madeline Miller
Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho
Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking by Rachel Love Nuwer
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Devil's Daughter by Lisa Kleypas
The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra (DNF)
Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Lost In A Good Book byJasper Fforde
Bridge Of Clay by Marcus Zusak
About That Kiss by Jill Shalvis
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis
Playing for Keeps by Jill Shalvis
The Lemon Sisters by Jill Shalvis
The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles
Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis
The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
The Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White
Rainy Day Friends by Jill Shalvis
Animal Magnetism by Jill Shalvis
Mythos by Stephen Fry
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Rescue My Heart by Jill Shalvis
The Dark Bones by Loreth Anne White
Homestead by Rosina Lippi
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Then Came You by Jill Shalvis
Still The One by Jill Shalvis
Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Wrapped Up In You by Jill Shalvis
The Winter Of The Witch by Katherine Arden
>5 AlisonY: Thanks Alison, it's nice to be back amongst the forums. I usually read genre fiction (historical fiction, fantasy, romance but also some literary fiction) and non fiction (pop science on biological science themes, biography, politics, world events). For my own interest, and anyone else passing through wondering what I read, a round up of my 2018 best/worst reads is below.
Best of 2018
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - just so good!
Moonglow by Michael Chabon - irreverent style and intriguing set up.
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith - enjoyed the exploration of Strike and Robin's relationship.
Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman - heartwarming read with an unflinching style.
Bellewether by Susanne Kearsley - serendipidous read after The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton where the two timeframes, locations and a couple of characters overlapped, adding so much to both reads. Also Kearsley is a favourite of mine.
Stardust and Substance edited by Stephen Levine - really interesting retrospetive from a variety of viewpoints on NZ politics at a time when the unexpected was happening.
Becoming by Michelle Obama - haven't quite finished this yet, but belongs on this list. Really interesting insider view.
Bad monkeys by Matt Ruff - a rollicking plot with many twists and turns, just plain fun.
Dud of 2018
Miss Smila's feeling for snow by Peter Hoeg - I struggled to like Smila and the plot made several leaps of faith. I did appreciate the glimpses of Greenlander history woven in though.
Welcome to the group!
>9 japaul22: Thanks for the welcome japaul, I'd definitely recommend Eleanor Oliphant as well as being a great read it's got a great theme on the power of friendship.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Non-fiction / Memoir
Becoming traces Michelle Obama’s journey from the working-class Southside of Chicago, to Princeton and Harvard, meeting Barack and becoming a mother and then on to the White House as the FLOTUS.
Obama’s warmth, humour, determination and decency leap off the page at readers and I admire her ability to stay positive, even in the most trying circumstances. Her storytelling is engaging, and somewhat deceptive as some heavy topics (like race or gun violence) are dealt with in a very articulate and straight forward way but without losing any of the power or emotion contained in those issues. Given the FLOTUS works behind the scenes it was interesting to get an insider view of the advocacy and initiatives that Obama took on, and also interesting to read about aspects of daily life in the White House. My one small disappointment is that their second term in the White House is dealt with very swiftly, I felt a few more pages could have been spent on major moments or issues of that term.
Obama’s philosophy on life is one I find really inspiring, and she makes her story feel relatable – even if parts of her life are on a whole other level.
I hope you enjoy it when you get to it Colleen.
Lovely to see you here Judy :-) I'm also going to be on the hunt for more Atwood, and can't wait to see where the TV adaptation goes - it went beyond the book after season 1.
Hi AuntMarge, I don't think I've made it to your thread yet, I'll be over shortly :-)
Realistic fantasy / Adventure
Isabella, Lady Trent, is a distinguished dragon naturalist and A Natural History of Dragons is the first instalment of her memoirs. A Natural History takes us back to the beginning with Isabella’s fledgling interest in dragons, her early marriage (she agreed to the engagement because he would allow her unladylike interest in his library) and her first expedition to the rugged mountains of Vystrana in search of rock-wyrm dragons.
Isabella is an intelligent, unconventional woman who manages to (mostly) navigate the easily recognisable world of Victorian social structures, morals and restrictions within which A Natural History is set. Looking back on her earlier years, Isabella offers some forthright commentary of some of her youthful actions that I think adds some humour and saves the reader from the irritation of a smart woman doing dumb things.
A Natural History is written in a very engaging, conversational style and there seemed to be occasional nods to some ongoing, real world issues. For me, text in two sections in particular had me drawing parallels to Japan’s programme of scientific whaling, and the often knee-jerk reaction of setting drum lines after a shark attack. While both of these instances threw me out of the story somewhat (mostly because I have strong opinions on both topics), I love that I could make those kinds of connections reading fantasy. In the About Author, Brennan writes that she “habitually pillages her background in anthropology and archaeology” and I think this is evident.
This is a faced paced, adventure romp with an underlying intelligence that makes this a great read which crosses several genres. There is also beautiful art throughout which adds to the reading experience. I'll definitely be getting my hands on the second book of the series.
>23 AlisonY: Alison I'm not even sure I could give Miss Smila the credit of potentially being good, it was a real struggle for me.
>24 rhian_of_oz: Thank you Rhian. A Natural History was a SantaThing book for me this year and I'd never heard of it before, but I did spot her list of other titles in the front when I started it so yes, I did realise there would be more to come.
And does anyone know if there's an easier way to point to specific posts on our threads? I'm currently using the "a href=/topic/301238#messagehead25>>25 SouthernKiwi:" code, but I have to find a comment and copy and paste it each time which is a little annoying. Maybe I'll just type ">X" and not link....
>20 SouthernKiwi: You've reminded me that here's another series that I have overlooked for a while. I read the first two of Marie Brennan's Lady Trent Memoirs and quite enjoyed them.
The title says it all really. This is a book about shark attacks, why and when they might happen, the media and political response to shark incidences, the psychology and evolution of our fear of sharks, the mitigation options available, the treatment of shark bites and the developments in trauma medicine for these somewhat atypical wounds. Inserted throughout are powerful personal stories from shark attack victims, first responders, friends of those fatally bitten and the perspectives of several organisations tasked with the implementation of shark mitigation options.
The first section of the book covers shark biology, particularly as relates to their movement and feeding behaviours. I’m not a newbie to the topic (or biology in general) and I struggled with parts of this section, the writing in a few places lacked clarity or sufficient explanation of biological terms or phenomena. I’ve certainly read better descriptions of shark biology. The photos used throughout were the other weakness, they’re black and white and sometime didn’t illustrate specific species features very clearly.
The rest of the book however, was very good and covered a lot of ground and perspectives. The author primarily situates the text in Australia but also includes South Africa and the USA (Hawai’i and Florida), with two key examples from Reunion Island and Brazil also discussed. The explanation of mitigation measures in particular was great, the underlying logic, pros and cons of each option (placebo legislation is a thing…) and their perceived versus actual effectiveness is all laid out. A lot of current research has been pulled together in the writing of this book and Chapman highlights the conflict between the (low) risk to people and the need to conserve these amazing creatures which are also ecologically important.
Having only just returned to work last week, I'm off again next week to visit family. My next book is a chunkster so hopefully I should be able to make some headway while I'm away!
The Core by Peter V. Brett
As the greatest city-states of Thesa battle the rising demon hordes, Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir take the final fight for the future of humanity down into the Core of the world, the domain of the demon Queen and her mind-controlling princes.
In this book the plot lines are more divergent so a wider variety of characters provide point-of-view chapters allowing readers to keep up with events as they happen in various locations. These new character voices add interest and gives readers something new for this 5th book. There were a couple of major plot points which were said to be crucial, and they absolutely could’ve been used in interesting ways but the way everything was resolved they ended up being red herrings.
There are plenty of battle scenes, each with their own characteristics and highlighting the growing threat of the demons, which finally prompts the Thesan city-states and Krasians to put aside their warring and politicking and face the threat together. Heading into the final battle for their world Arlen and Ahmann have some last-minute philosophical jitters prompting role reversals – it was nice to see that right up until the end the characters were still being developed and learning from their experiences.
The Core is the final instalment of Brett’s Demon Cycle series, and provides a satisfying conclusion to the series, with all plot lines resolved. The final scene however leaves things wide open for future stories set in this world.
The Eyre Affair is set in a version of Great Britain circa 1985 where Wales has seceded from the United Kingdom, the government has ministries to deal with time travel, there's an uncle with a shed full of weird and wonderful inventions, England and Russia are warring over the Crimea (and have been for over 100 years) and someone is holding the literary world to ransom. Which is where literary detective Thursday Next comes in.
While the rest of the book is very light-hearted, I do wish the central relationship between Thursday and Landen was taken a little more seriously. Even in a madcap world with the unexpected on every second page, I found this relationship quite unrealistic and Thursday’s flip-flopping without actually talking to Landen frustrating. I hope there’s more development of their relationship in the rest of the series.
This is a rollicking story with non-stop action, as well as plenty of puns and in jokes to enjoy. The Eyre Affair is a fun, engaging romp and I’ll look out for the next in the series.
Karori Confidential presents a selection of columns from opinion writer Leah McFall which offer commentary on suburban life in Wellington (New Zealand).
McFall’s sharp observations of everyday life combined with humour and occasional indignance makes for fun, thought-provoking reading. Using a seemingly random thought or event from her day (or week) McFall springboards into social commentary, often via an unpredictable turn of thought, that elevates the general monotony of suburbia into something much more.
Educated follows the journey of Tara Westover as she grows up in rural Idaho, part of a survivalist, Mormon family and forced to work in her father’s dangerous junk yard. Tara’s singing talent allows her some time away from her domineering father and so begins the slow process of her discovery of the outside world.
Tara and her siblings receive no education, but as one brother leaves for University and the abuse from another brother escalates, Tara realises her need to leave her family and begins on her own path to Brigham Young University. But life at Buck’s Peak has provided her with few reference points for mainstream life and the first year at BYU results in culture shock and disorientation.
I struggled reading Educated. I’m not religious so Tara’s father’s blind faith seemed utterly callous to me, and to wholly refuse medical treatment after serious trauma (brain injuries, car accidents, serious burns etc) was unfathomable - faith was placed in homeopathy and essential oils instead. Westover’s frank retelling of these events and the abuse she suffered was brutal, and I had to put the book down on several occasions. The transformational power of education however, is clear in this narrative. The goal of college allowed Tara to move beyond her family’s influence and in doing so she gained safety and freedom, as well as contact with her extended family. But there’s been a high price to pay in terms of her mental health and estrangement from much of her immediate family.
Westover has had an extraordinary life so far, and has made her way to Cambridge and earned a PhD through determination and hard work. This is a gut-wrenching but ultimately inspiring story of someone who found the courage to go her own way.
The travelling vet: From pets to pandas, my life in animals by Jonathan Cranston
Cranston is a vet in a mixed practice in the UK, but takes a month most years to travel to Africa so he has a wide range of stories to tell.
This book is presented as a series of experiences centred around a particular species, from Armadillos to Zebras. Cranston meets the usual suspects in the clinic or on the farm, but also sees animals at a nearby zoo and has conservation adventures in Africa so this vet’s work life is perhaps a bit more varied and exotic than most.
Cranston’s passion for animals comes across clearly, welfare issues relating to both wild species and farmed animals are raised and each section ends with an informative ‘fact sheet’. The Travelling Vet is an interesting read for any animal lover.
Fantasy / Mythology
Circe has not the look or sound of divinity, but a goddess she is. Daughter of Helios and Perse, Circe grows up unloved and spurned in the halls of a Titan’s palace. It’s a lonely upbringing that creates a well of strength within her that is drawn upon again and again over her centuries and which leads her, in her exile, to discover her true power.
From Circe’s meeting with Prometheus and the life-altering consequences to her love of Glaucos and Daedalus, her rivalry with Scylla and the year with Odysseus, Miller has taken many stories from the Greek mythological pantheon involving Circe and woven them into this retelling of her life.
There are many cruelties and disappointments visited on Circe, but in learning her lessons and harnessing her will she gains her power and independence. Thought-provoking reflections on the nature of immortality and what it means to live are scattered throughout. Beautifully written and full of nuance, this is the story of a goddess who’s journey mirrors that of the mortals she comes to admire.
Fantasy / Alternate history
From the publishers: In Regency London, Zacharias Wythe is England’s first African Sorcerer Royal. But how can he enjoy his position when a faction schemes to remove him? He’s also haunted by his dead mentor, and the Fairy Court is refusing to supply England with magic … Just when the government demands it for their blasted French war. Ambitious orphan Prunella is determined to escape a life of drudgery. So when the beleaguered Sorcerer Royal visits the school where she works, she seizes her opportunity. Prunella’s stumbled upon the greatest magical discovery in centuries – and intends to use it. The last thing Zacharias needs is a female magical prodigy! But together, they could change sorcery forever.
The two issues I had with Sorcerer to the Crown were patchy character development and pacing. There was a fast start and conclusion but the middle section dragged - there were all sorts of problems for Zacharias in particular to contend with but limited action. On initial introduction, Prunella is a sensible girl who competently juggles all tasks thrown at her, but she quickly morphed into a girl who hared off on ill-conceived schemes – a change that didn’t sit well with me. By the end of the book she’d become an interesting young woman finding her power and direction in life.
Zacharias and Prunella are an entertaining combination but their narratives often ran parallel, I would’ve liked more direct interaction between them. Serious issues like race and class are raised throughout the book although they are dealt with relatively lightly, in keeping with the overall tone. These issues added an interesting (and timely) dimension to the story, I think there was room to expand on them little further though.
Having written all that, this was still an enjoyable read – think Marie Brennan or Naomi Novak meets Georgette Heyer. I loved the premise and ended up enjoying it, but I had very high expectations that Sorcerer to the crown didn’t quite live up to. Cho leaves plenty of room for more development in the next instalment which I’ll definitely look forward to reading.
I made a visit to my favourite bookshop after work today, and the quote on their bag strikes me everytime:
What's in here? Something that sings. That argues. That tells a story. Something that seduces. That explains how. That won't shut up. Something that keeps you awake, that won't be put down. That recalls the past. That can see the future. That may not be seen again. Something that says just what you've been thinking. That's never been to your house before. That transforms your bus ride. That won't disturb the neighbours. That never gets tired. Something that remembers all the words all the way through to the end without a single mistake: something wonderful. A Unity book.
Love it! Today's mini Unity haul was Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and The hypnotist's love story by Liane Moriarty.
I'll be interested to hear how you rank The Hypnotist's Love Story amongst Ms Moriarty's books.
>47 rhian_of_oz:: Rhian, my impression is that I was lucky and have so far read all of Moriaty's best books. I'm not expecting the Hypnotist to live up to Big Little Lies, but hopefully it will be a good read for when I need something light.
Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Tech entrepreneur Spencer is carrying around some relationship baggage from the ladies he’s had no time for, while YA author Colbie has focused too much on her family and needs a break to rediscover her muse. Cue a meet-cute involving a dog and fountain on a dreary San Francisco day.
Chasing Christmas Eve also provides some back story for Eddie and his relationship with Spencer which helps to round out the group dynamic of the Pacific Pier building.
Given this is an author writing about an author I would’ve been interested in a little more insight into the writing process but overall this is another sweet instalment in Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series.
Non fiction / Investigative journalism / Wildlife trafficking / Conservation
Poached is a difficult but necessary read, international wildlife trafficking now ranks behind only drugs, arms and human trafficking in scale on the global crime scene but receives much less attention. Nuwer doesn’t pull her punches. Primarily taking in Southern Africa, Vietnam and China Nuwer speaks to poachers, rangers, end users, conservationists and activists, policy makers and visits the farms, reserves and restaurants that play a part in this story.
Nuwer focuses on the trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn, tiger parts, bear bile and pangolin meat and scales to highlight the complex set of drivers in wildlife trafficking. Belief in traditional Asian medicines is a factor, but so is the huge rising middle class in China who buy ivory art and jewellery, a meal of pangolin or those traditional medicines as status symbols. Desperate poverty makes poaching in Asia and Africa an attractive risk, especially as local police forces have limited resources, can be bribed or have different priorities. Education will play a huge part in the battle for the survival of these and many other species. Apparently in China there’s a relatively common belief that elephants and rhinos survive de-horning procedures, illustrating an ignorance (wilful or otherwise) of the awful, destructive methods used by poachers to obtain the horn. Some countries are fighting back through tourism, having realised the value of these animals as draw cards. In some instances poachers, having honed their skills on the wrong side of the law, are now earning a livelihood by using those same skills as rangers to protect their natural heritage. Nuwer also provides a good idea of how the CITES process works and the politicking and vote trading that goes on to undermine conservation efforts in the international policy-making realm. Supply and demand plays a role here, but it’s much more complicated than that. Serious suggestions have been made to open up a limited legal trade in ivory to try and control the demand side of the equation. Opinion is divided on the likely outcomes of that suggestion.
This book is eye-opening in a number of respects, including the lengths that conservation groups and private reserve owners go to with their anti-poaching defences. There is an extensive bibliography of further reading, but for those interested in conservation and wildlife trafficking Poached is a great, if gut wrenching, place to start.
Fantasy / Folklore
In remote northern Russia the protective spirits of the house and fields are a daily part of life, and the long winter months are passed with re-tellings of the old stories around the fire. Vasya has inherited the second sight from her mother, and communicates with these guardians of her village. But the arrival of Vasya’s devout stepmother Anna, who is soon followed by a charismatic priest, turns the guardians into a source of fear. For years the guardians endure the neglect of the villagers but are left weakened, with only Vasya to rely on for sustenance. Meanwhile in the woods an ominous presence lurks.
For me this was a lovely slow burner. We meet Vasya as a wild young girl and watch her grow into a young woman, navigating the personalities and tensions of her family and village. Anna also has the sight but believes she is seeing demons, cowed by fear of what she does not understand Anna casts Vasya out. With unexpected aid from Father Frost, Vasya and her brother must fight for their village.
At its heart, The Bear and the Nightingale is a conflict between tradition and religion, through which Vasya comes of age. I enjoyed the use of Russian dialect (although it takes some getting used to – there’s a helpful glossary at the back!), which adds richness to the wonderful sense atmosphere that Arden creates. This is an enchanting re-telling of Russian folklore.
Devil's Daughter by Lisa Kleypas
Lisa Kleypas is a go-to author when I need something a bit lighter to read but for me Devil's Daughter wasn't one of her best - which is shame as the Ravenals and Wallflower series are two of my favourites. The first half of the book focused on reuniting readers with many of the Ravenal and Wallflowers cast, which was fun but it lead to a split focus and uneven pacing. Phoebe and West's relationship didn't get going until the second half of the book. There were some lovely moments throughout though, especially involving West and children.
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
I made it to page 249 of this chunkster before putting it back on the shelf. I was enjoying it, but it’s a slow burner, and a slow burning 900 pager was more of a commitment than I want at this time. Sacred Games is set up around a central who or why dunnit as Inspector Sartaj Singh investigates the death of slum lord Ganesh Gaitonde, with secondary stories threaded in between. The Mumbai setting is atmospheric with plenty of Hindi words and phrases scattered throughout, as we’re given a glimpse into the daily life of this huge Indian city. I hope to get back to Sacred Games when I have more time for it.
As a hypnotist, Ellen O’Farrell is fascinated by what makes people tick. So when she falls in love with Patrick, the fact that he has a stalker doesn’t faze her… instead she’s fascinated.
I’ve loved a number of Moriarty’s books, but this is not one of her stronger ones. We get a strong sense of these characters, but they are not as complex as some of her more recent casts, and the plot is weaker. There’s initially a sympathetic view taken on the stalker, which is interesting but only at the very end is there any real acknowledgement of the damage that this kind of relationship has over an extended period of time. The Hypnotist is an exploration of each of the relationships that form this triangle, what brought them together and the emotional baggage they are each dealing with.
Time and an attention span are in short supply at the moment. Immediately after returning from Fiji I found out my Nana had been hospitalised, she's now only receiving palliative care so we're all playing that by ear, she's an amazing 96 though. My normal mid year slow down at work didn't happen and I'm busier then ever, in the next month there will also be a newbie to train and there's a particularly difficult, stressful student situation on top. My laptop needed replacing and I'm considering a house move at the end of the year. I need another holiday!! I'm still reading, but I've veered sharply into easy, comfort reads and am making my way through Jill Shalvis' back catalogue at the moment, and while I've stopped writing reviews, I have at least kept up with my list at the top of the thread.
>64 DeltaQueen50: Judy we were in Fiji for the last week of July and it was fantastic, we could've done with a little more sunshine but it was definitely still beach and cocktail weather. Staying on one of the outer islands had us forgetting all about real life :-)
>65 rocketjk: Hi Jerry, thanks for dropping in. I'm enjoying Thursday Next, they're just pure fun :-)
>66 NanaCC: Hi Colleen, I'm happy to fire off the occasional book bullet, so often I'm on the receiving end!