books

Notable Reads of Summer 2017

Pregnancy replaced Reading with baby paraphernalia research This fall, but I did enjoy several great books last summer.

Princess Academy (Princess Academy, #1)Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hale is quickly becoming a favourite author. Her command of language is exceptional--she pulls you along with such vivid imagery, and yet the words are stripped down and deceptively simple.

Beautiful story of worth and finding humour and courage in the awkward moments. I love it when I can read a new fairy tale, and this one of singing stone is a keeper.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enchanting. So many old folk tales spun anew in this debut that I could not put down!

There were no straw villains. Each character was thoughtfully faceted and, though there was a large cast, I could understand motive, cause and effect.

We hate the things we secretly are. Isn't our hypocrisy ironic? It's easier to condemn others than to condemn ourselves. And we fear what we don't understand.

I love this brave, headstrong heroine who still needed help and comfort and encouragement, could NOT do it all by herself, and yet finds the strength to save herself and others. Well done, highly recommend!

The MementoThe Memento by Christy Ann Conlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lush gothic storytelling with a disturbingly riveting mystery. One dislike is the use of rape as a plot device, though the cause and effect of cyclical abuse and promiscuous behaviour is devastatingly realistic. After waiting the whole book long to understand how Fancy Mosher's "memento" would manifest, I was a little disappointed with some trope-y reveals of "he's actually your father/brother"...

Besides that, there was so much to love. Based in Nova Scotia? Around an enormous mansion full of secrets, surrounded by a hedge maze and labyrinth gardens? 😍 Before all goes awry, there is such a wistful description of simple childhood bliss: of berry picking and sampler embroidery and making pies and distilling rose water. Magical. Reminded me a little of The Thirteenth Tale.

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a heist. What a plot! I was slackjawed by the sheer brilliance of Kaz Brekker, the agility of Inej, the wiles of Nina, and their wrenching complexity of character. Each page, I kept thinking to myself, "THIS. THIS, is how you write."

Every chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, which technically is a no-no, as few can do it well without confuzzling the reader. But it adds SO much. It actually saves the author from telling you much, because you are SHOWN things through different lenses. I don't even want to comment on the plot, or even give anyone a hint of what it's all about, because the whole book feels like a magic show. To tell you anything would rub the glint off the next trick around the corner...

What I will say is that the first chapter drew me in, with the barest minimum of worldbuilding, but Chapter 2 smacks you full across the face with foreign names, words, realms, and it requires a clear head to keep up. But once the characters tug your heartstrings...there's no turning back.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW. Who needs a trilogy when you pull off the 2nd in a duology so well?? Bardugo, THANK YOU for writing characters who have hard, realistic consequences to their difficult choices. Thank you for showing corruption, political futility, rebellion, and prejudice. Thank you for giving us hope in broken people, fresh starts, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, teamwork, and trust.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you were... kidnapped? Tortured? Blackmailed? Forced to betray those you loved?

Well, even if you haven't, you need to read this book.

I can't say enough. The characters are still alive in my head. I think they may always live there. I hope my own books can accomplish even a fraction of this masterpiece.

Spring 2017 Books

The Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3)The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved the first book of this trilogy, then I had to fan my flagging enthusiasm for the second. This last book does a better job of focusing on characters that we actually care about, and spins conflict in a natural, fatally human way.

Some may balk at the twist ending, and it does seem like a non sequitur, but I can live with it because ultimately the heroine sacrifices greatly for the sake of others. It completes her epic, virtuous character arc.

Oddly though, I feel like this book stripped the villains of all their menace. So much of their danger in the first and second books is that we didn't understand their motive, and knew nothing of their past. This book reveals all of that, and so there were no twist counterattacks or bends in the plot.

And, I'll be honest, I still don't really understand how the heroine's magic (her sapphires) work. Johansen went into detail about their origin, but it didn't click.

Overall, a fairly satisfying conclusion to a unique and well-defined world. One thing Johansen does well is suck you in. Looking forward to reading more of her stories.
Rise of the Dragons (Kings and Sorcerers, #1)Rise of the Dragons by Morgan Rice
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF. So much telling, exposition. Warrior heroine longing to be taken seriously, latent magical powers, and half a dozen grizzled men who dote on her? Nope. Those tropes aren't enough to make me sympathize with the MC.

Too bad, because I love the covers on this series, and the author seems to have had success with it.
Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional SkillsBack to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills by Abigail R. Gehring
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good in concept, but sadly outdated. The illustrations are from decades past, as is much of the advice and stories. I'm all for reviving the old arts, but I don't see how this is a 3rd edition from 2007. Disappointing. Will perhaps try something a little more recent. Don't bother reading unless you want to feel like you're reading advice that's 40 years stale.
A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword, #1)A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent! A bit elementary in storytelling showmanship, but the complex world building and very approachable MC more than makes up for it. Very interested to read more in the series and find out what happens to young staff-wielding Errol Stone! Let's be honest, I'd enjoy any book involving a quarter staff.
The Hero's Lot (The Staff and the Sword #2)The Hero's Lot by Patrick W. Carr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite good. I devoured this second book in the series. Impressive world building, as the majority of the plot is in "quest mode", campaigning through various realms.

Other cultures are not wrong, just different. Loyalty is relative, depending where you stand. What do you choose to live for, if you know you're going to die?
A Draw of Kings (The Staff and the Sword #3)A Draw of Kings by Patrick W. Carr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Satisfying conclusion for this riveting trilogy. This author has done a remarkable job of creating vulnerable, relatable, extraordinary characters through multiple POVs. Go find these 3 books and start reading!

I had hoped that the end threads would twist in a satisfying "aha" way, but alas I saw the reveals coming.

Few authors I have read portray religion and faith in such a kind, truth-seeking light. Generally, the trend is to throw in the default corrupt church, influencing state in teeth-gritting condescension. But this treatment was a refreshing surprise. Yes, religion is corruptible, as humanity is, but there are some--such as Martin and Luis and Errol--who engage and wrestle with their beliefs in order to find meaning. That's powerful.
The White Mare (Dalriada, #1)The White Mare by Jules Watson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one probably deserves a more thorough read, as I skimmed a lot of the tactics and political manoeuvrings. The ice princess and flawed hero tropes were done well here, and the Druid first century culture reminded me of The Mists of Avalon.

Some lovely description and world building, and an intimate portrayal of a male-hating, marriage-dreading rape victim. Monstrous to think how prevalent violence against women was in those days.
The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Funny. Hard. So well done. For those who enjoyed the film, you will be pleased to hear that it is nearly identical to the book. That being said, it's still worth reading.

Just like the parables, reading this book shouldn't make us wonder what kind of villains we put up with. WE are the villains. We are the Miss Taylors; so caught up in our own heads we can't see our own flaws. We are the Miss Celias, desperate to be liked and creating our own prisons of fear. We are the Miss Hillys, condescending and manipulative. We are the Miss Skeeters, thinking we are salt and light but in truth naive and complicit.

The question is, will we change?
Little BeeLittle Bee by Chris Cleave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book raised interesting questions on morality. We can be SO right about certain aspects, and entirely blind/selfish/hypocritical about others. But who are we in the hard moments? Do we choose to save others, or save ourselves? The two heroines show their mettle in the extraordinary circumstances, and in the ordinary--and those two realities look very different.

As far as lit fic goes, not my fave, and not enthralling, but I suspect lit fic isn't my best jam. Would give 3.5 stars if I could, but I would recommend reading because it provokes a lot of interesting questions.

Winter 2016/2017 Books

Shades of Grey (Shades of Grey #1)Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant. Funny, absurd, utterly sane sociopolitical satire. Makes you think and pause and is so full of light-hearted complexity, you can't help but savour each sentence.
The Red GardenThe Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clear, transporting prose. Reminds me of the film The Fountain —the same eternal, dreamlike story of loss and love and life and unfulfilled longing. The fairy tale echoes and flawed characters make you wonder how much of these common story threads those around us live without realizing. How much of our lives are fated by the woven strands of our ancestors; their mistakes, their blood, their bravery, their bland resignation? How much of our thoughts are haunted by their legacy? How can we find peace in this short, short life?

Best read in one sitting.
The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll warn you, this book has a bland start. I was given it at Christmas '08, and I've tried to read it at least 3 times. Finally brought it on vacation, and once I was over the initial dry, philsophical hump I found a rhythm.

You can definitely tell there is a lyricism missing from the original French. I haven't read many translated books, but this one is still well done, and because I've studied the language some of the peculiar phrasings flow a little easier for me.

A suicidal 12-yo genius and a secretly autodidactic concierge... both with great repressed longing and desire to be understood and yet cynical about life's cruelty and banal inhabitants. I did find some of the soliloquies a little high-brow... waxing philosophic for paragraphs, or chapters can get a little tedious. But each thought from either character is a poignant observation of humanity. Many thoughts worth considering.

I would recommend reading in a calm and quiet span of days, during which you have the space to consider loftier thoughts on life and death.
Red-Hot Monogamy: Making Your Marriage SizzleRed-Hot Monogamy: Making Your Marriage Sizzle by Bill Farrel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's dated (2006), but an honest, frank and practical book to make sure you never get stuck in a rut. Relationships required faceted connection: mental, emotional, spiritual, etc. Worth reading no matter how young/old your marriage.
The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really LiveThe Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The mark of cultural application: when a book is written 20 years ago and isn't out-of-date.

The author was clever, innovative, and didn't just identify a problem, but offered solutions. I think any renter or homeowner needs to read, simply to open their mind and blow the roof off pre-conceived notions of "home" and "house wish lists".

Why do we want mansions? Who's going to clean all that space? And who even says that a mansion will feel like home?

Better that we have a cozy space that is comfortable and inviting, to ourselves and to our quests. Better that our space is defined by quality rather than quantity, that it reflects how we live.

What a refreshing argument that homes should be designed with flexible, multi-purpose rooms. And they don't fall into the paradox of doing many things poorly. A spare room can be both an office and guest bedroom. And a media room. An exercise room. A crafts room. Why not?! Why do we need single purpose rooms, which only collect more clutter and dust?
The Pocket Universal Principles of Design: 150 Essential Tools for Architects, Artists, Designers, Developers, Engineers, Inventors, and MakersThe Pocket Universal Principles of Design: 150 Essential Tools for Architects, Artists, Designers, Developers, Engineers, Inventors, and Makers by William Lidwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic and short read that will have you flipping back to refresh. Simple concepts like the 80/20 Rule and chunking information are defined, expanded, and practically applied. It's these kinds of tactical collections that make you approach problems in a fresh way. Would recommend before starting something new.

The Lonely Bear

I wrote this wintry story with the sole purpose of getting in the good books (ha!) of the little ones in my life. 

The Lonely Bear Who Went Looking for a Party is only 25 pages, but it's still my first (e-)published book! It's the story of, well, I'm sure the title gives you a pretty good idea. Don't worry, I hid some humour in there for the adults, so it's not all sugar and warm fuzzies!

Shout out: to the wonderfully talented South African illustrator and graphic designer Lisa Glanz. I'm in love with her work!

Ideal reading age: 2-6 (the older ones can read it)

Enjoy! Scroll to the end for a downloadable PDF version.

The Lonely Bear Who Went Looking for a Party

Fall 2016 Books

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don'tGood to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by James C. Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a mediocre read. I had higher hopes, but it failed to keep me engaged and took me 6 weeks to force myself through. I felt that the details went too deep on too few examples; so multiple chapters kept referencing back to the same Walgreens and Wells Fargo studies. Lots of graphs and stock trajectories—is that the marker of success? Would have been valuable to see other types of stats, like employee retention and units of x product sold, ubiquity, etc.

As an entrepreneur and wife of another entrepreneur, I was hoping to glean some small-business tactics. I did jot down some notes for the future, and while we wait for those big leap moments, it's good to note the importance of people, leadership and culture.

I would recommend this for people who are currently part of a large organization, and have some comparable competition in order to benchmark their success against.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated AutobiographyPioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was simply wonderful. I have read the beloved 9 books to shreds, and it was fascinating to see behind the scenes, marvel at the difference of the original draft, all the historical details. A must read for any Little House on the Prairies fan.

The Firebird (Slains, #2)The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little torn by this book. We started off with Nicola and Rob as MCs, both psychic but Nicola resists her powers--and Rob. Then, as the two adventure into the past, we follow little Anna's orphaned journey until she becomes a young woman with beaus.

The first half of the book pulls you in--makes you fall in love with Rob, and empathize with Nicola. But then that's replaced with long passages of Anna's story, until Nicola's journey reduces to staccatoed whinings of self-doubt and unrequited longing for Rob. It's disgruent, and jarring because you realize Anna is so much the better heroine.

When Anna meets Edmund, you can't get enough of their sarcastic exchanges. And you realize with surprise that you don't really care about Rob and Nicola anymore. They've failed to retain your loyalty and interest. I think that's a loss, and also misleading for the reader.

The story ends up becoming quite another story, and the inevitable "lover's spat" between Rob/Nicola is so minimal and predictable it hardly counts. Conversely, Anna & Edmund's story twists unexpectedly, several times, each one clever and heart-wrenching.

There was quite a lot more history than I could handle--I confess I skimmed a lot of it, too engrossed in the characters to bother about setting (and a lot military/strategic dialogue felt like thinly-veiled exposition). The author ought to have replaced some of this with a cleverer plot line for Rob/Nicola.

But Anna's story carries the book. If the point was to have Nicola grow and gain courage through simply re-living and experiencing Anna's life, I'm not convinced. I don't have a lot of sympathy for shrinking violet heroines. So, despite the fact that I was compelled to read the book in one setting, despite its drawbacks, I am so impressed by the complex characterization of Anna that it gets 4 stars, even if its shortcomings should really drag it down to 3.

The Ghost BrideThe Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enchanting. A rich, clear narrative peppered with salivating cuisine and sensory sounds and silks. As my mother is Malaysian-born Chinese, this setting had particular meaning for me, and the detail Choo describes of the Chinese superstitions and after-life is mesmerizing.

A heroine whose shoes I walk in, whose heart flutters in time with mine. Some predictable twists, but utterly satisfying, and never simple. A book I highly recommend, and want to add to my bookshelf.

QTA: Do you ever really know someone's motives? How much of the spiritual world affects the physical one around us? Short of death, what has to happen to make you take charge of your own life?

ObasanObasan by Joy Kogawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haunting.

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi KingdomIn the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta A. Ahmed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing glimpse into a foreign culture and the worlds of Islam and Saudi Arabia. Deeply spiritual and at times blandly historical, the glossy, voluptuously sensory writing is enchanting. Worth reading, no matter your background.