Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: Forbidden by Ted Dekker &Tosca Lee

Forbidden (The Books of Mortals, #1)After several nuclear bombs have been detonated on Earth the survivors followed the new leader Sirin and his teaching of excising emotion to guarantee peace and survival. Almost 500 years later humanity is still rebuilding itself and the new Order shuns everything to do with the past age of Chaos that lead to destruction. All emotions with the exception of fear have been genetically eliminated and people live to serve Order and to be guided by it. When Rom discovers a vial of ancient blood that promises "life" and takes one of the five portions he awakens everything about himself that is human. But the vial came with a task encrypted on piece of velum and now Rom and four of his newly-alive friends must find out what it means and complete their quest. Everything they know and believe will be tested and all their strength and courage will be required to survive for dark powers want nothing more but to kill them and claim what they possess.

When I first saw the galley of this book on NetGalley I was intrigued by the cover. The whole "metal badge on a stone wall" design was appealing all by itself but with the bleeding heart in the middle the concept became that much more interesting. But there it sat, waiting for its time, which finally came late last week. I was immediately swept into this odd world where people feel nothing but fear and into Rom's life that's turned upside down when an old man gives him a mysterious box and almost immediately gets killed for it. I felt for this simple young man who didn't ask for anything that follows, who struggles with the onslaught of feelings that couldn't be any more strange. I hoped that the bad guys would fail once and for all and yet I knew that things couldn't be that simple. I recoiled at the twisted and horrific things the villains did and wondered about their leader's apparent omniscience.
There are plenty of dark and terrible things in this book and at first all the violence and blood spilling shocked me a bit but then I remembered that this is not a YA book and kept reading. Everything that happened made sense and I'm not sure that the book would've gripped me as it did had the authors shied away from the blood and gore or even toned it down. Morbid of me? Maybe. Doesn't make the book any worse.
The combination of highly advanced science and hardly any technology accessible to the masses creates a very interesting atmosphere. It kept me wondering what else was possible in this strange society, what else wasn't destroyed and what kind of advancements were actually made in the centuries when the world's population just tried to survive. The last several chapters sure opened up a lot of possibilities.
There are some things that weren't very believable. No matter how trusting people are how many times can the same trick really work? Wouldn't they be on the lookout for that exact thing? Shouldn't they be on the lookout for it? Similarly, if someone knows that something that doesn't fit with their plans is going to happen and they know when exactly it'll happen and where wouldn't they take steps to prevent it? Apparently not in this world.
The book didn't end on a cliff-hanger and I'm grateful for that - we all know what it's like to impatiently wait for a year or more to find out what happens next. The authors tied up the plot threads without leaving any loose ends but making plenty of promises for the sequel and giving an idea of what to expect in the future books of the series. I'm still wondering what will happen next, but at least I can wait without biting my nails to nothing.

The galley of this book was provided by Center Street, the publisher, via

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: A Spy a At Home by Joseph Rinaldo

A Spy at HomeFor Garrison retiring from the CIA means returning to his wife and son and learning to be a husband and father full-time. Not the easiest thing for a guy who spent most of his life under-cover, especially since his past life is never really in the past - the quiet, frugal family is hiding millions of dollars in an off-shore account and terrorists whose money Garrison stole are after them. And what will happen to Noah if both his parents die before him?

With a title like A Spy At Home it is easy to expect this book to be a mystery or a thriller but it is neither. Sure, there is a mystery, and sure, there are incredibly hard to find bad guys but this novel is more about being a part of one's family than surviving in a war zone.
This is a relatively short book, only 122 pages, but it took me a while to read it, possibly because it was not like the books I'm used to where the author takes the readers into the story. Instead Garrison is the narrator, telling us about things that happened and somehow even though there's always talk about how this or that event made him feel the scenes that engaged me weren't as frequent as I would have liked. There simply wasn't the sort of detail that brings the story into the here and now and makes the characters come alive. For example when I read "Louisa began her subtle prodding..." I wished I knew what she said and how she finally got the police officer to tell her what she wanted to know. In addition to that sort of telling and not showing the copy I got had many spelling and grammatical errors and while I allow that the manuscript may have gotten proofed and revised to eliminate those at a later date they were too much of a distraction for me.
There are few characters in this book and Noah, Garrison's son with Down syndrome, is the most developed one. I repeatedly caught myself thinking that the author must have either done extensive research or has personal experience with this condition because the way Noah is portrayed feels very authentic and the family's reactions to the changes he undergoes are particularly believable.
It is understandable that secondary characters, like the family's friends and Garrison's former superior and CIA contact, weren't written with much detail but I expected that by the end of the book I would know this family. Instead while I found out what they did for a living, how they managed to keep the stolen money hidden and some very intimate particulars about their sex life I didn't really feel that I knew them. They were a family with a highly unusual story but they were a family an acquaintance told me about, not a family I got to know myself.
I really wanted to enjoy this book and in the light of some very favorable reviews out there I'm inclined to think that my state of mind wasn't ideal for it. There were quite a few very insightful moments that I felt came from experience and gave authenticity to the writing, and the final sentence was so strong that as soon as I read it I knew it was my favorite part of the book, but as a whole this novel didn't really do it for me. I urge you to check it out though, may be it'll be just right for you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Community Bookshelf in Kansas City

When you think of Kansas City, MO what's the first thing that comes to mind? I'm betting it's not the parking garage of their library. And that's a shame because it should. When the good people of Kansas City decided that the library needed more parking they came up with a unique way to make the new structure attractive as well as functional. The mural in the picture is actually the south wall of the Kansas City Public Library's parking garage, which in its entirety presents 22 titles that were suggested by Kansas City readers and then selected by The Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees. The Community Bookshelf page on the library's website lists all the titles on the spines of the books and it's a pretty eclectic collection! I wonder whether the library saw an increase in patrons interested in checking out these titles once the mural was finished. The Romeo and Juliet cover is my favorite, must be the tooled leather and the combination of brown and gold. Which one do you like best?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Knight (Iron Fey, #4)Ash, the last Prince of the Unseelie Court, has made a vow that he would find a way to be with Meghan in the Iron Realm, to be her knight again and to protect her as long as they both drew breath. To do this he must win a soul and his path is full of danger and trials so difficult and painful no-one should be subjected to them. Will he prove himself worthy of a soul and will he see his quest to the end? It will take everything he's got and fortunately for him his friends have his back.

I really looked forward to this book, wondering how Julie Kagawa would do with changing the narrator and essentially taking the story in a completely new direction. The Iron Knight was definitely very different from the first three books in the series. While Meghan is very direct, no-nonsense, doesn't agonize much every step she takes and her story is all about action Ash is her opposite and his story is as well. Oh, don't get me wrong, he may be torn up about all kinds of things but he's not going to just sit there, he is a warrior after all. There is a lot of introspection here and the decisions Ash has to make aren't just whether to go and fight, they involve matters of the heart and soul and that complicates things tremendously. There were times when I was terribly disappointed in him, felt that he was continuing on his quest out of the sense of duty, not out of love, but gradually he was able to understand himself and I was glad to see how things turned out.
The Iron Knight thrilled me from the very first pages with the lore that is introduced here. There is an old witch who lives in a house on bird legs and there's the gigantic Wolf. I don't know whether these characters are common in Western lore but they are a constant presence in the Slavic fairy tales and when I realized what was going on I was absolutely delighted. These are the characters I grew up with after all and Ms. Kagawa did them justice. The entire time they were in the story I didn't have any problem with what they did or said and this made me appreciate the novel that much more.
With Ash, Puck and Grimalkin in the core of the cast here the dynamic between the characters is essentially familiar but the new additions give it a bit of a new flavor and I saw sides of them I didn't really expect. With Ash and Puck almost competing with Grimalkin and Wolf in who can bicker better there's plenty of verbal dueling that could turn dangerous any minute and the new surprise companion in the quest brings the tension that makes it impossible to be confident in the outcome. And don't worry, we do get to see Meghan again before the story wraps up and she's still her old self, despite being the Iron Queen and ruling a whole realm.
The main thing about this novel is how introspective and thoughtful it is, and it's not just about making difficult decisions and coming to terms with one's past, it's about what it means to be human from beginning till the end. I'll admit, I didn't enjoy all the parts of the story, some felt just too surreal and some didn't seem relevant, but as a whole it made me think about who we are as humans and what we have. (See, told you this book isn't like the first three.)
I can't believe I'm saying this and you may strongly disagree with me on this but I didn't feel that this book was as inspired as the others. It felt like more "I have to do this" than "I want to tell this story" and although it was done well it just wasn't the same. If you prefer a happy ending to a story though I highly recommend that you read this book: with The Iron Queen ending as it did I can imagine that the lovers of Happily Ever After weren't exactly satisfied and with The Iron Knight Kagawa tied up the most important loose end of all and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

A galley of this book was provided by the publisher, HarlequinTEEN, via NetGalley

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex

Leonardo's SwansEver since they were little girls Isabella and Beatrice d'Este were betrothed to very different men. Isabella's fiance is to take her to the country, to the estate of a family knows for breeding the best horses in Italy and she was to become a marquesa. Beatrice's betrothed is a learned man, the regent to the duke of Milan, a renown patron of the arts, a politician like no other and one day Beatrice may become a duchess of greatest city-state in Italy. It's too bad that Isabella has a brilliant mind and loves to collect beautiful works of art and Beatrice wants nothing more than to spend days on her horse. Their sisterly rivalry turns serious when the girls fall in love and begin to fight for the affection of one man and the opportunity to have a great artist paint their portraits.

My favorite thing about this book is that it exposed me to some very interesting people who lived in 15th century Italy. Without it I may have never heard about the incredible Isabella d'Este, may have never looked up the paintings mentioned in this book, may have never thought about Leonardo da Vinci as a man outside of his work.
Ms. Essex did a great job of getting into the women's heads and showing us what they thought and felt at the most important times of their lives. I preferred Isabella not because her character was easier to relate to but because her sections were deeper, more intimate and showed what the ways of the Italian nobility were at the time. She was a woman of great intellect, an art connoisseur, a formidable opponent for any man in the political arena as well as a woman of great beauty, grace and charm. It was fascinating to learn about her and I intend to read more about her in the future.
Leonardo da Vinci is a prominent character in this book but we never get to hear about the events from him. He is always talked about by either Esabella or Beatrice and while their descriptions paint an interesting portrait (no pun intended) it would've been very interesting to get his take on the events of the time and the people with whom he was in such close contact. Throughout the book there are excerpts from Leonardo's notes that are both his reflections about the subjects of his studies and to-do lists that give us a glimpse into the mundane part of his life. These excerpts are not invention of the author, they are actually taken from da Vinci's notebooks and effectively bring the reader closer to the time and the characters of the book.
As impressed as I was by the characters this novel fell a bit flat for me because of the writing. The narrative went from lively scenes that were very engaging to sections that read more like a chronicle and back. Because of this the story didn't hold my interest as much as it could have and I had no trouble setting it down and sometimes even found myself zoning out during the accounts of who invaded whom and who was suspected of whose death. The fact that the narrative often changed between past and present tense from one paragraph to the next didn't help eather and even though eventually I managed to ignore the back and forth between the "is" and the "was" the challenge of having to do it detracted from the enjoyment of the book.
I would recommend this novel to those readers who are interested in learning about Italy at that tumultuous time in history, enjoy fascinating characters and feel they'll be able to ignore the inconsistencies in tense and less than stellar bridges between the scenes that actually had some life to them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hay-on-Wye: The Town of Books

Honesty Bookshop
Photo by Deb Harding from the Hay-on-Wye website
Several weeks ago I was lazily browsing through random pictures on the web and a picture of bookshelves next to a wall that looked like it belonged at a castle caught my eye. Bookshelves? Outside? Next to a castle wall? I've never seen anything like that! A quick investigation showed that the picture wasn't a result of someone's photoshop-equipped wistfulness but an actual honesty-system bookstore in a small town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales, UK. And then I couldn't stop reading about this tiny town with a population of 1,500 in Southeastern Wales that boasts three dozen bookshops and a world-renown Hay Festival of Literature - the Sundance of book lovers.
The festival is a 10-day annual event that attracts 85,000 people from around the world who come to participate in some 500 events that take place in the tented festival village in late May - early June. What started out as a festival on the border between Wales and England grew to international proportions and now there are thirteen locations worldwide holding festivals of their own throughout the year. The official Hay Festivals website has plenty of information about all the events but if you want to visit the original festival in 2012 plan to be there May 31st to June 10th and to prepare visit the town's website, they have plenty of information on accommodations, attractions and activities to occupy your time outside of the festival.
If you don't like crowds, want to have your choice of lodging and prefer to quietly browse Hay's many bookstores there's plenty to do the rest of the year as well and judging by the photos online the town and the nearby areas are absolutely lovely and worth visiting. Here is an interesting article on the NY Times website by a writer who visited the area 2 months before the festival and it sounds like she and her husband had a wonderful time. The article was written in 2006 but I'm sure the spirit of the town and the people hasn't changed too drastically.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Queen (Iron Fey, #3)My name is Meghan Chase.
I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stand by my side. Drag me into the core of conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it. This time, there will be no turning back.

Whenever I really enjoy a book it's difficult for me to review it because I keep trying to shape my thoughts into something coherent and all my brain throws back at me is "It was Awesome!". Which is exactly what's been going on all day today. Julie Kagawa took the series to a new level with this book and fulfilled all kinds of promises in the process. The character development, the story arc, the very unexpected but logical and satisfying resolution of the love triangle that kept bugging me in the last book and the epic ending I did not see coming all hit the right notes and when I turned the last page the only thing I didn't like was that the book was over. You know how they say that when you're dreaming up a story don't be afraid to dream big? Ms. Kagawa isn't afraid, not even a little bit.
I enjoyed seeing the characters' growth in this book. Meghan's transformation from a teenage girl into an adult who understands what's important is complete and she is now strong enough to do what needs to be done, no matter how painful it is. Ash and Puck are not just boys with a centuries-old feud, they are finally acting their age, showing that they can do more than draw swords at the drop of a hat, that they can take a step back and do what's best for the girl they both love.
Speaking of love, I can't resist telling you that this book has an amazing scene that is my absolute favorite of all the romantic scenes so far. I can gripe about love triangles and immortal beings falling for a teenager all I want but when there's a scene like that all my gripes melt away and all I can do is sit there soaking up every word, rereading the paragraphs and grinning like a real hopeless romantic in the face of true love. You want a hint now, don't you? Well, the title of the next book is a huge spoiler as far as this particular scene is concerned.
Of course it's not all about mushy stuff (what kind of Iron Fey book would it be if it were, right?), there are excellent action sequences and great standoffs that keep you hoping things don't turn nasty. Pair that with terrific dialogue throughout and you've got yourself a thrilling adventure with plenty of chuckles along the way.
Fortunately for the series the more mature characters, themes and relationships didn't change the writing. It's just as light and effortless as it's always been, making this book an extremely easy and fun read and proving that it is possible to talk about serious things without being stiff and drowning in big words.
A lot of the conflicts that were established and developed in the first two books came to a resolution in this volume and while the story came to an end on one level there's still more to come before it can really be over. I look forward to finding out what kind of deal Ash made with the Queen of Exiles, how he will be able to overcome the challenges Meghan's new role in the Nevernever brought and how he'll get along with Puck now that they actually have a chance at friendship again. The faerie adventures continue and I could not be more pleased about it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg

Wild Mind: Living the Writer's LifeNatalie Goldberg, author of the bestselling Writing Down the Bones, shares her invaluable insight into writing as a source of creative power, and the daily ins and outs of the writer’s task. Topics include balancing mundane responsibilities with a commitment to writing; knowing when to take risks as a writer and a human being; coming to terms with success, failure, and loss; and learning self-acceptance—both in life and art.
Thought-provoking and practical, Wild Mind provides an abundance of suggestions for keeping the writing life vital and active, and includes more than thirty provocative “try this” exercises as jump-starters to get your pen moving.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones, has been sitting on my shelf for a while, started but not finished. There were so many references to Zen Buddhism and Ms. Goldberg's Zen teacher that she lost me before even really capturing my interest so I never got very far. This volume started out the same way but since I got it from NetGalley I felt obligated to review it and so kept reading. I'm glad I did because there is a lot of very good advice in it, such as to slow down and notice things we don't usually notice, to write regularly and no matter what, to learn to differentiate between procrastination and productive waiting, to remember that our writing isn't who we are and to live a life outside of it too and Ms. Goldberg's personal motto of "Shut up and write".
I really enjoyed her 7 rules of writing practice which are essentially what every other writer tells you to do: keep your hand moving, lose control, be specific, don't think, don't worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar, you're free to write junk and go for the jugular. I liked the chapters on writing the truth and what to do with it if by publishing it you'll hurt your loved ones, on the value of reading your writing aloud and on cutting through all the extraneous noise to the heart of the matter. There were a lot of personal examples which kept me interested because I felt that the author was a real person, not some abstract entity who I knew nothing about (which is actually one of Natalie's recommendations to writers) and there were plenty of exercises to try and I've actually jotted down quite a few to use myself.
This book isn't only about writing, a lot of the things covered in it are about life and the challenges a writer, and any other person, faces every day. The chapters on stepping forward with your life, living your life for yourself and not for someone else, and making a positive effort are like that and I liked that they were included.
As you see there are a lot of good things about this book but when I turned the last page and thought about it I felt overwhelmed. There didn't seem to be a particular rhyme or reason to the order in which the chapters appeared. Moreover, pretty much every chapter felt like Ms. Goldberg sat down for her writing practice, gave herself a topic and said "Go". Setting one's wild mind free is wonderful for being creative and authentic but if the first word that comes to mind when one thinks about the resulting work is "scatterbrained" I think some editing is in order.

The galley of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Once you shut yourself inside a wardrobe, you can imagine anything."

Back in 1998 the good citizens of Belfast, Northern Ireland commemorated C.S. Lewis's 100th birthday by unveiling a life-sized bronze statue titled The Searcher that depicts Digory Kirke, C.S. Lewis's alter ego, entering Narnia through the magic wardrobe.

C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast and many believe that the world of Narnia was inspired by his childhood in Ireland. He spent majority of his adult life in Oxford, writing and teaching at the Magdalen College. In addition to his scholarly work, Lewis wrote a number of popular novels, including his science fiction The Space Trilogy and his fantasy series the Chronicles of Narnia. The Chronicles is Lewis's most popular work, it has sold over 100 million copies in 41 languages and has been adapted for TV, radio, stage and most recently, and most famously, a series of movies.
In 2008, The Times ranked him eleventh on their list of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey, #2)Deserted by the Winter prince Meghan thought loved her, she is prisoner to the Winter faery queen. As war looms between Summer and Winter, Meghan knows that the real danger comes from the Iron fey—ironbound faeries that only she and her absent prince have seen. But no one believes her. Worse, Meghan's own fey powers have been cut off. She's stuck in Faery with only her wits for help. Trusting anyone would be foolish. Trusting a seeming traitor could be deadly. But even as she grows a backbone of iron, Meghan can't help but hear the whispers of longing in her all-too-human heart.

With the second book in the series Julie Kagawa continues Meghan's adventures in the Nevernever and if you thought the first volume was full of danger prepare for an even wilder ride this time around. I think my favorite thing about this book was how while Meghan is underestimated by everyone, possibly even those on her side, she emerges as the most powerful figure in the faery world - she is half-human so she is immune to the effects of iron, she is the daughter of the Seelie King so her faery powers (when she can use them) are above average, and it seems like her encounter with Machina left her with extra abilities that even she doesn't clearly understand just yet. Now that The Iron Daughter is wrapped up I am all kinds of excited to see Meghan in The Iron Queen, fully expecting her to kick some serious butt shock-and-awe-style. So yes, girl power gets the highest marks here and the guys frame it very nicely. It was good to see Puck and Ash in frenemy mode again, their bickering is just too sharp-tongued not to enjoy. Grimalkin is back too with his signature attitude and he is as amusing as ever. I have to admit, all the characters are very much smart alecks and their dialogue makes for great reading. Mix that with practically non-stop action and major plot twists (betrayal, anyone?) and the book is almost impossible to put down.
Another thing that keeps the tension up is the solidification of the love triangle. We all knew it was coming so no major surprise there and now Meghan has to choose between the two guys vying for her affection, which is no easy feat because she (wait for it) is in love with both of them. At least their unexpected ally is keeping a respectable distance and is sticking with the role of friend and protector, otherwise it would've been simply too much. There is plenty of angst, drama in the best traditions of Romeo and Juliet, deadly encounters because this is the Nevernever after all, and even a makeover.
I mentioned earlier that after her confrontation with the Iron King Meghan has acquired some extra abilities and I'd like to compliment Ms. Kagawa for giving us glimpses of what she can do and shaping the general idea of what's in store without giving too much away. I really can't wait to read Iron Queen to see how she fulfills these subtle promises because if things go the way I think they will the balance of powers will be changed in a manner I don't think anybody in Neverever expects. Except for maybe Grimalkin. That cat is tricky beyond belief.
Remember how the series started with Meghan thinking about the day her father disappeared at the edge of a lake in a park while she was buying ice cream? Remember how later she gave a memory in exchange for clues as to how to find and destroy Machina? Those little plot threads that could've been so easily forgotten and abandoned have come back in this book and the mystery behind them is probably the most fascinating one of all. I'm not going to tell you too much, but just know that there is more depth to these books than may appear at first glance. Those threads are like Stanislawski's gun - if it's there in the first act it will fire in the third act, and I think Kagawa has already begun to pull the trigger.
The one thing that detracted a little bit from this novel and my impression of the series in general is that the main plot elements of the love triangle between the girl who doesn't fit it, her best friend, and the very cold and dangerous other guy, as well as the weakest player becoming strongest player kept reminding me of Twilight. I imagine that Stephenie Meyer probably didn't invent those either but it's just so recent that it's almost like deja vu. I will give Ms. Kagawa props for making it her own though - the relationship between the two rivals is more complex than the plain "enemies forever" formula, the emergence of Meghan as a powerhouse is very gradual and very subtle, and I don't think anybody's going to be able to talk themselves out of fighting to the death in this series. Except for may be Grimalkin.
All in all this is a wild ride you don't want to miss, so strap in and hang on, the fun is just getting started.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for ElephantsThough he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell and in the end it was a life he never expected.

I looked forward to reading this book ever since the movie based on it was announced but by the time I finally got my hands on the paperback the much-anticipated film was so close to release that I decided to wait to read the book until after the movie has faded from my memory. And so it is only now that I've read it, staying up late to enjoy Sara Gruen's beautiful prose and to be impressed by the diverse cast of the book's characters. Getting to know Jacob, Marlena, Rosemary, Walter, Camel and even August and Uncle Al was an absolute delight, especially since they continued developing until the very end, revealing new facets of their personalities and details about their past that made them who they are.
The narrative alternates between the past, set in 1930s, and the present, which could really be now or 10 years ago, we don't get much information as to what decade it is. In the present the 90, or 93-year-old Jacob is at a nursing home, struggling with his age and helplessness and remembering the beginning of his life at the circus and the beginning of his love affair with Marlena, the beautiful and talented performer in the liberty horse act. In the past he is 23, living the most exciting and the most perilous months of his life. Sometimes the back and forth such as this can be confusing, detracting from the experience, but in this particular case it was executed so well that seeing the past and the present helped create a fuller picture. It's so much easier to understand old Jacob and his frustrations when you know what he's lived through, and watching the events of the early 1930s unfold you always have a sense that it's not just a story, it's the turning point in a life, several lives in fact.
Although Jacob's relationship with Marlena is central to the story and is a catalyst for pretty much everything that happens my favorite relationships are the ones he has with Rosemary and Walter. They may not be as emotionally charged, but there is a depth and a poignancy to them that I didn't see in his relationship with Marlena. Similarly, I was a bit surprised when he talked about being almost in love with the elephant, feeling protective of her and not being able to let her go when the time came. Throughout the book I didn't see much distinction in his connection with Rosie and the rest of the animals in the menagerie apart from the fact that she was the newest and most expensive member of the team and a lot of attention was paid to her. If I had to choose one animal with whom I could see he had a bond it would be Bobo the ape. There was the tenderness and the affection that wasn't present in the scenes with Rosie, that's where I could see a friendship being born. With the two main relationships feeling under-developed I couldn't help but think that Ms. Gruen did a wonderful job with the secondary cast but could've devoted more attention to the main players.
As much as I enjoyed the novel the very end of it seemed like a bit of a stretch to me. Up until then I believed everything that happened. It seemed logical and completely plausible with even the most outrageous turns of events seeming unexpected and amazing at the most. This is circus after all, anything can happen there. But when it came to the final chapters I just couldn't shake the feeling that I didn't believe it, it was just too good to be true. I can't tell you more but once you read the book, or if you've already read it, I'd love to hear what you thought.
This really is a very good novel and I'll wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. After all, may be I'm just becoming picky :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Special Feature - Blog: Tiny Library

One of my favorite book review blogs is Tiny Library and I always look forward to Sam's posts because the books she reads and reviews aren't among the usual suspects in the month's rotation and I know that her reviews are going to be thorough, honest, insightful and fun to read, regardless of what the books are.
Sam reads a lot and it's a very varied list. This year alone she's read Charlaine Harris, Philip Pullman, Bram Stoker, Audrey Niffenegger, Charlotte Bronte, Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Suzanne Collins, H.G. Wells, Stephen King, Michelle Moran, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates and Nicholas Sparks, and this is just a sampling of the authors whose names I recognize from the long list of titles. There's definitely more fiction than non-fiction on the list so if this is your preference Tiny Library is a great place for remembering old favorites and discovering new titles with which to fill your leisure hours. So pay Sam a visit, you're sure to have a good time. I always do.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Review: Iron King by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King (Iron Fey, #1)Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school... or at home. When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change. But she could never have guessed the truth — that she is the daughter of a faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face... and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

On October 26th the latest installment of the Iron Fey series hits the stores and in anticipation of it I've decided to dedicate the next four Sundays to reviews of this series. Yes, that's right, I am in possession of the ARC of The Iron Knight (thanks to the publisher and NetGalley) and in order to prepare for it I got the other three volumes from the library. After all, can't read the fourth book and not read the first three. Besides, everything I've heard about the Iron Fey seemed to say that if I didn't read these books I would be really missing out. So there I was, on a sunny Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, sitting at a Starbucks, my coffee long gone, unable to close The Iron King and go home to continue reading it there because closing the book would mean that I'd have to stop reading and I really didn't want to! Julie Kagawa's fey got their sharp little teeth in me and were not letting go.
There are many things that charmed me. One is the narrative voice. It is so light and keeps the story moving so well that I knew immediately that this would be an easy and delightful read. The other is how all the magical creatures we've heard and read about in a variety of different stories come together in the Nevernever and every one of them has a place. This isn't all fun and adventure though - the faerie world is full of danger and I really liked that too, it reminded me of the stories I read as a child, they were really scary at times! Even better was the fact that that there wasn't a grand tour of "here's is a piskie, there is a goblin", it made me dive head first into the story and figure it out as I went, or rather as Meghan went. It was a bit confusing at times because everything seemed to have razor-sharp teeth and carnivorous appetites, or at the very least a malicious intent, but it all worked out in the end. I really liked how the author interpreted the technological development of our world and its influence on the faerie world. I haven't read much fey fiction lately so this seemed like a very innovative approach to me, and well-executed at that.
If you were to risk your life and shake me awake in the middle of the night to ask me who my favorite Iron King character is I would immediately say that it's Grimalkin. The cat's totally awesome and such a scene stealer! He clearly has his own agenda but at the end of the day he's on the side of the good guys and his sense of humor got laughs out of me every time. Actually the rest of the main cast are pretty funny too. Meghan is just because of her teenage attitude, Puck is the jokester no matter how close to death he is and even Ash cracked a joke or two and they weren't bad either. Spending time with these guys was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed seeing their evolution from who they were in the beginning of the book to who they became in the end.
Here's something I didn't enjoy very much: the ever-present scenario of "girl who doesn't fit in falls in love with the mysterious and dangerous guy from the enemy clan the moment she lays eyes on him; fortunately it seems the guy isn't all evil although he keeps pulling away and probably will kill her if the stars align just right but she doesn't care, she wants to be with him". What the heck? Can't people fall in love gradually any more? They're magical creatures and teenagers at that but seriously? At least I could console myself that there wasn't a love triangle in all of this, although Puck did seem to be looking at Meghan with googly eyes once or twice. And that's another thing, they're thousand-year-old creatures, why do they keep falling in love with teenage girls who barely know anything about themselves, let alone the world around them? I get it, love conquers all, but seriously?! Ok, rant over.
Despite this slight short-coming I did enjoy the book very much. So much so that I stayed up till 3 in the morning because Ms. Kagawa kept ratcheting up the action and I just couldn't wait to find out what happened next. And when the last page of The Iron King was turned I had to resist to not pick up Iron Daughter and keep reading. A girl's gotta sleep after all.
So these are my impressions of The Iron King. Come back next Sunday for my review of The Iron Daughter!