Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

Mike Finn - Audio Book Junkie

My name is Mike Finn and I'm an Audio Book Addict.

I'm here to share my experience of the books I listen to.

Review
3 Stars
"Big Vamp On Campus - Half-Moon Hollow 5.5" by Molly Harper - fun novella for fans of the Hollow
Big Vamp on Campus - Molly Harper

Visiting Half-Moon Hollow is a guilty pleasure that I indulge in when I'm looking for an éclair read: a lightning flash of escapist fun that is light and simple but packed with good things.

 

"Big Vamp On Campus" is a mini-éclair, a novella in the Half-Moon Hollow series, that focuses on Ophelia, one of my favourite characters, and captures her during a period of transition.

 

In previous books, Ophelia, a 400-year-old vampire who looks sixteen and wears a Hello Kitty backpack, has been the Big Bad: a power-hungry bureaucrat with a lethal temper and a reputation for spectacular acts of violence.

 

"Big Vamp On Campus" follows on from Ophelia's dastardly deeds in "The Dangers Of Dating A Rebound Vampire". Ophelia has lost her powerbase and is being punished by being sent to college "to engage in a normal college experience" so that she can demonstrate that she can control her homicidal impulses.

 

What follows is a pleasant slice of college life in which Ophelia gets to try out being normal by doing exotic things like making friends with nice people who have no agenda that she has to worry about or respond to. True, Ophelia still unleashes violence on her annoying vampire roommate but no actual torture is involved and the roommate really is unpleasant.

 

Ophelia was always more than a self-serving, paranoid, manipulative predator. With her blood-mate and her sister, she is capable of demonstrating passionate loyalty and her own peculiar brand of affection. What makes this book work is seeing Ophelia explore that side of herself and expand the radius of the circle that contains US rather than THEM.

 

This is a fun book for the fans but not the right place to start. If you're new to Half-Moon Hollow, I recommend that you go back to "Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs" and take the journey from the beginning.

 

I recommend the audiobook version, read with skill by Amanda Ronconi. Click on the SooundCloud link below to hear a sample.

 

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Reading progress update: I've read 30%. - how peculiar
Odd & True - Cat Winters

"Odd and True" is, as one GR reviewer put it, "supernatural but historical fiction with sisters".

 

I'm 30% of the way through the book and so far nothing has happened except that I am completely fascinated.

 

It seems to me that this is a book that is about the nature of knoweldge, the ambiguity of truth and the power of the bond between sisters who grew up with only each other to rely on.

 

It is a truly peculiar book that can only be defined in reference to itself.

Review
3 Stars
"Thunderbird Falls - Walker Papers #2" by C. E. Murphy - entertaining urban fantasy
Thunderbird Falls - C.E. Murphy


"Thunderbird Falls"delivered exactly what I was looking for this weekend: relaxing, escapist, entertainment that demanded nothing much from me except the suspension of disbelief and a willingness to open my imagination to astral plane encounters.

 

"Thunderbird Falls"follows on from "Urban Shaman". It deals with Joanne Walker trying to come to terms with being a Shaman when her preference is just to be a mechanic and not to believe in anything magical.

 

I liked the development of the relationships Walker established in the first book: the 70+ taxi driver with charisma and good humour, her love-hate there's-more-to-me-than-you-know Police Captain and her I-wear-nail-polish-because-I-like-it-and-it-unsettles-people Police Detective colleague. This gives the basis for a good ensemble cast for the rest of the series.

 

Walker spends a lot of this book revisiting her hidden-from-everyone-she-cares-about past. This is nicely done, striking a good balance between maudlin introspection and epiphany.

 

The plot is moderately complicated and brings in a whole coven of witches and some new and very scary bad guys. The astral battles are vividly described. What I liked most was that Walker is allowed to make a lot of mistakes in this book rather than glided along effortlessly as so many heroes seem to do. I also enjoyed the theme that explored the nature and use of sacrifice of yourself and others.

 

There was nothing in the book that made me go "Wow" but nothing that made me want to skip forward either. I enjoyed myself and cheered at the end. I'll get to the third book the next time I want a chilled weekend with a book.

 

 

 

OFF TOPIC POST: The Grand National: some memories from me and a poem by Richard Stevens

-3

 

Today is Grand National Day in Aintree, Liverpool, a horse race I've known since my childhood. It's a steeplechase with fierce fences that, at least in those days, often had jockeys unhorsed, riderless horses still racing and the occasional serious injury to man and horse. As you can see from the picture above showing the 2011 Grand National, it's a chaotic event and a notoriously difficult race to predict.

 

It was an institution in our family. A house would be selected to host the event and aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would gather, the men hefting crates of bottled Guinness, the women competing to provide plates of tongue or ham or corned-beef, garnished with jars of Piccalilli, beetroot slices, and silverskin onions. We kids would pester and pester until the older ones were given money and sent to the corner shop to get bricks of ice cream and bottles of Dandelion and Burdock to float them in.

 

The paper would be studied and the adults would each pick a horse to bet on. The men would discuss the horses' form and deride each other's poor grasp of the facts, while the women would pick horses based on appealing names or lucky numbers. Money was collected and one of the men would be sent to the bookies to place the bets.

 

When the time came, we would all settle down to listen to or watch the race. There would be a choir of voices urging, cursing, groaning and even, occaisionally, rejoicing. These songs of hope and despair were led by the BBC commentator, his voice initially fast and flat, spitting facts and naming positions, then building to a frenzied, hoarsely-shouted excitement as the winning horse made it home.

 

This year, I discovered "The Poetry Grand National", a poem by Roger Stevens', which mimics the commentators tone and substitutes word forms for horses in an extended metaphor that made me laugh out loud both because it's clever and because it brings to poetry some of that gambling-fed intensity that I remember from my childhood.

 

Here it is. Enjoy.

 

the poetry grand national.001.jpeg

 

"The Poetry Grand National" by Richard Stevens

 

The horses line up
They’re under starter’s orders
They’re off

 

Adverb leaps gracefully over the first fence
Followed by Adjective
A sleek, Palomino poem

 

Simile is overtaking on the outside
Like a pebble skimming the water

 

Half-way round the course
And Hyperbole is gaining on the leaders
Travelling at a million miles an hour

 

Adverb strides smoothly into first place.
Haiku had good odds
But is far behind – and falls
At the last sylla-
ble

 

And as they flash past the winning post
The crowd is cheering

 

The winner is
Metaphor
Who quietly takes a bow

 

 

 

 

OFF TOPIC POST - "Wake" by Mike Finn

The need to write struck me today. I've been thinking about what I've left behind me and the metaphor of a wake came to mind. Then I thought about an Irish wake and I started to write

 

The first few paragraphs are below. If you'd like to read more, go HERE.

 

wake

 

This morning it feels as if we are the only boat on the lake. The barely risen sun is pale, displaying the sharp cold day but too weak to challenge it. As we leave Le Bouveret harbour behind and head west towards Geneva, the Alps are a brooding presence on our left, still mostly in shadow except at their snowy peaks, which deflect the sun like raised blades-

 

The further we travel, the wider the lake looks and the smaller the fibreglass hulls pushing us through the water seems. If I were here alone, I might be overwhelmed by how little of this world I displace as I move through it. Alone, it is easy for me to let go, to slip beneath the surface of the day and surrender my heat to the pull of the cold indifference of the universe. Basic physics perhaps, heat going to cold. The inevitable triumph of entropy. Yet saying such things aloud draws unwelcome attention at my age, so my thoughts stay silent and solitary.

 

I am not alone, of course. This is not my boat. I am Stefan's guest. He stands at the wheel, straight and strong, wearing shorts despite the cold and looking determinedly ahead as if his steady gaze is what moves us forward. He is the force behind our almost-dawn patrol. This boat is his realm. I am... cargo, brought along because his wife, my daughter, Sarah, wants me onboard.

 

Review
4.5 Stars
"American By Day" by Derek B. Miller - highly recommended.
American By Day - Derek B. Miller

"American By Day" would make a wonderful movie. It's entertaining, original and accessible. Like most wonderful movies it's underpinned by a serious intent to take a fresh look at difficult issues and a refusal simply to rearrange clichés into new patterns like turning a kaleidoscope.

 

"American By Day" is as easy and as amusing to read as a Carl Hiaasen novel but where Hiaasen is satisfied with using the eccentric to highlight the absurd, Derek Miller uses rational thought to challenge us to leave our pre-conceptions behind.

 

Set in 2008, the year of Obama's election, the book follows Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård, the Oslo police detective from Miller's wonderful "Norwegian By Night", to America in search of her missing brother.

 

At the end of "Norwegian By Night", Sigrid shot and killed a man who was running towards her, armed with a kitchen knife. At the beginning of "American By Day", Sigrid is officially cleared of any wrong-doing. This troubles her. She cannot let go of the idea that her assumptions and choices resulted in a young man's death. She wonders what assumptions and what choices would have to change in order for the young man not to die.

 

She returns to her father's farm to think about this. When her father tries to comfort her by saying he knows her well enough to know:

"...You wouldn’t have shot a man unless you thought it was necessary.” 

she replies

"“Maybe I shouldn’t have thought it necessary. That’s the part the police department is ignoring.”

With these questions fresh in her mind, Sigrid finds herself dispatched to Upstate New York to search for her brother who has gone missing. She arrives to find herself in the middle of an investigation into the death by fenestration of her brother's girlfriend. Her brother is the main suspect.

 

As Sigrid tries to use a mix of rational analysis and deep cunning to prevent her brother being killed by the police searching for him, we are lead through an exploration of American policing and the why so many encounters between the police and black men end up with the black men dead.

 

It would be easy for a book dealing with these topics to become a list of competing dog-whistle positions in which no-one listens or learns. Derek Miller avoids this by doing three things: letting me look at America through the lens of a strong, intelligent Norwegian woman who is coming to terms with what she wants from life and what she's able to have; by creating a wonderful local Sheriff who is a truly original free-thinking, bible-quoting, cowboy boot wearing man who wants to make things better and who acts as a foil for Sigrid's point of view and by using humour to keep the whole thing human, without humour the reality of life is inaccessible.

 

Through the discussion between Sigrid, the Sheriff and one of his Deputies, we are invited to see differently, to think differently and to act differently. It is argued that, if the results feel wrong yet the individual steps to that result feel right, then we are missing sometihng. Perhaps we are failing to see sometihng because we are blinded by our assumptions. Perhaps we are choosing not to see something because seeing it would force us to do something even if it's only admitting our own powerlessness or lack of courage.

 

Miller prevents this from being an abstract philosophical debate by keeping the questions and the consequences personal and immediate and by a careful and effective use of humour.to make the people in the story more human and to strip away the reader's ability to hide behind ideas so that we don't have to think about what we don't want to have to see.

 

Humour at its best helps us step back and see things differently, deflating pomposity, acknowledging the absurd and ruefully accepting our shared imperfections. Humour at it worst drives us towards hate, disparagement and a reinforcement of belief in the face of inconvenient facts.  Both types of humour tell us a great deal about who we are and how we really relate to each other.

 

"American By Day" works as a standalone novel. It's funny, has an interesting mystery at its heart and deals with issues that are at the centre of American identity without being simplistic or pompous.

 

The language in "American By Day" is also a delight, in a quiet, unostentatious way. As I read the ebook, I found myself constantly stopping to highlight descriptions that snagged my attention like fragments of brightly coloured glass in the sunlight. Here's an example commenting on the library Sigrid's father built in his home when his wife died:

"After Astrid died he filled the void of words unspoken with the new silence of books unread."

Here's a how Sigrid thinks of the lone travellers she sees eating in a 24hour Diner in the early hours of the morning:

"They hunch over food that is making them sicker and older but tastes familiar and comforting and reminds them of happier times when they were not here."

Here's how Sigrid describes the impact of her mother's death on her five -year-old-self:

"The absence of her mother created a strangeness to the world, as if the palette of the sky had inexplicably shifted and the mind never became fully accepting of that new condition."

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants a new light on old problems or who enjoys a well-written, funny, sometimes outrageous, mystery.

 

 

21105862_1578125688916298_4945537257378433438_n.jpg

 

Go to the link below for an interview with Derek Miller if you'd like to know more about him and how he writes.

 

 

https://themillions.com/2018/04/derek-b-miller-interview.html

Reading progress update: I've read 2%. - there ought to be a warning...
Letters To My Husband - Stephanie Butland

...when a book will make you cry from the first page. And not cheap, easy to manipulate tears but the more expensive kind that are a muscle memory of loss.

 

I knew the book was made up of a widow writing letters to her dead husband but I hadn't expected a wave of raw grief to drown me on the first page.

 

This is going to be tough but it's going to be worth it.

 

 

Two books that felt like getting a home-cooked meal made with love and skill after a week on the road eating fast food

a good book is like.jpg

I need to read. I'm hungry for it.

 

That hunger sometimes leads me to feed on fast-food books: predictable, accessible, loaded with emotional sugar or coated in spicy-batter plot and delivering strong, unambiguous characters and themes in familiar flavours.

 

Fast food books give me an immediate hit but, after a while, they kill my palette, dull my appetite and leave me feeling both bloated and under-nourished.

 

When this happens, I crave a book made with passion and skill, with distinctive flavour combinations that surprise and tease and demand to be savoured not just consumed.

 

buried_450

This week started with "Buried" a fast food book that was at once so bland and so heavy that I couldn't bring myself to finish it. It sat in my imagination like a congealing order of gravy and fries.

 

 

I set it aside, went in search of home-cooking and found two remarkable books that have woken my imagination and lifted my spirit.

 

 

book"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal is on the 2018 Women's Fiction Prize Longlist. It tells the story of an Irish woman in her sixties, looking back on her life. I'm listening to the audiobook version which is wonderfully done. When the main character recalls the voices of women from her childhood, I'm transported back to listening to my grandmother and her sister who spoke in exactly the same way.

 

The writing is beautiful without being flowery. I already understand that there's more going on than I yet know and that knowledge fills me with pleasant anticipation.

 

AMERICAN+BY+DAY"American By Day" is Derek B Miller's latest book. In it, he takes the Norwegian Police Detective we met in "Norwegian By Night" and sends her to America. I'm reading the ebook and I find myself constantly stopping to highlight and copy pieces of text that catch my attention like fragments of brightly coloured glass in the sunlight. Here's an example commenting on the library the main character's father built in his home when his wife died:

"After Astrid died he filled the void of words unspoken with the new silence of books unread."

This is a serious book filled with humour perhaps because without humour the reality of life is inaccessible. I'm confident that it will lead me to look at America through the lens of a Norwegian woman who is coming to terms with what she wants from life and what she's able to have.

 

These two books have reminded me that fast-food should be a last resort and that, with a little planning and little luck, I can have a diet that makes me glad to be alive.

Review
1 Stars
"Buried - Twisted Cedar Mystery #1" by C. J. Carmichael - DNF - abandoned at 75%
A Buried Tale - C.J. Carmichael

I got three-quarters of the way through this book before abandoning it. According to the ebook software, I had about an hours worth of reading to go.

 

Why put it aside so close to the end? It had become obvious that this wasn't really a complete novel. I was sliding towards a cliff-hanger ending and would have had to wade my way through another book, perhaps two, to get any real resolution. I hate that.

 

Why did I let myself get so far into the book? Well, the premise of a librarian-slaughtering, cold-case serial killer being investigated by a famous true crime author who has to return to his left-as-soon-as-I-could-and-never-went-back hometown seemed intriguing.

 

How can you go wrong with that? C. J. Carmichael managed it by writing all the characters at arms-length so that I felt I was reading a profile rather than meeting a person. This is an achievement given that the story is told from the point of view of three characters, two women and one man, yet none of them has a distinctive voice. Throw in the fact that the crime writer turns out to be a weak, undisciplined man who has never grown up and who does not meet even the few commitments he makes and I was losing interest in him solving any murders.

 

I initially held out some hope for the second plot-line of the writer's sister marrying a man who is clearly going to turn out to be a controlling and abusive husband and who may have killed his first wife. Except the husband comes straight from the how-to-define-a-narcissist handbook and has no personality as an individual. This makes it harder to sympathise with the smart-but-blinded-by-lust woman he sets out to break.

 

I felt like I was one step away from watching "The Bold and the Beautiful" with a garnish of librarian-slaying. Now, I'm annoyed with myself for having wasted my time on this.

Review
3.5 Stars
"Dead Cold - Chief Inspector Gamache #2" by Louise Penny - not your typical whodunnit
Dead Cold (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2) - Louise Penny

"Dead Cold" (published in the US under the less pleasingly ambiguous and less accurate title of "A Fatal Grace") surprised me by being qualitatively very different from "Still Life", the first book in the series.

 

"Still Life" was a comforting, almost wistful, book in which a wise detective gently unravels the deceptions hiding a murder and, in the process, falls in love with the village of Three Pines and its inhabitants.

 

"Dead Cold" takes us back to Three Pines and the villagers who brought the last book to life. It captures their reactions to CeeCee, a new arrival so cold and cruel, that when she dies a dreadful death the village almost celebrates, as if a house had just landed on the Wicked Witch of the West. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache is called to Three Pines to discover the murderer.

 

Despite having the same setting and characters as "Still Life" and a similarly complex plot, rolled out with at a similarly leisurely pace with regular pauses for food and philosophical reflection, "Dead Cold" sets off in a new direction. It sets this direction in a beautiful and compelling way, but I found the direction itself hard to accept.

 

As Chief Inspector Gamache says more than once, this case is about our beliefs and how they shape our actions and define our lives. In this book, the characters hunt not only for a murderer but for the numinous.  Psalm 46 is quoted repeatedly

"Be still and know that I am God"

Gamache and a number of the other characters in the book actively seek the presence of God to provide them with direction or purpose. The God is not necessarily a Christian God.  There is a nod towards other religions, including a translation of the traditional Indian greeting, Namaste, as "The God in me greets the God in you." Leonard Cohen is also enlisted in the search for the numinous, with a quote from the lyrics of Anthem:

"Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."

Light becomes central to the discussion of the divine and the language used in the book is often truly luminous, glowing with beauty and joy. The passage in which Clara's painting of "The Three Grace's" is described is wonderful as are some of the physical descriptions of Three Pines.

 

Despite the beauty of the language and the skill of the exposition, I struggled with the strong influence of the divine in this book. At times, I felt as if I had wandered into a modern allegory, exploring a seeker's path through the tribulations a long life, rather than a murder mystery.

 

The struggle arose partly from my expectation that I WAS reading a murder mystery and not a parable and partly because I am so deeply unconvinced by the possibility of the personal experience of God in my Louise Penny led.

 

I resolved the struggle by accepting that I WASN'T reading a murder mystery but rather a novel that seeks to illustrate the possibility of belief as a source of good or evil that has a real impact on who we become.  I allowed that the characters described here sincerely believe in the existence of the God they seek and the Three Pines is more than a place, it is an aspiration for what a community should be.

 

Taken on these terms, "Dead Cold" became a delightful read with a murder mystery and a little internal Police political intrigue added as seasoning.

 

I ended the book feeling glad that I'd heard Louise Penny's unique voice and wondering what intent is driving this series.

 

Adam Sims did a great job narrating "Dead Cold". Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

 

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Review
3 Stars
"Night Broken - Mercy Thompson #8" by Patricia Briggs
Night Broken - Patricia Briggs

This is the first time I've finished a Mercy Thompson book and gone - "that was an OK episode" rather than "Wow! This series just keeps getting better".

 

I've delayed writing a review, to see if I'd be able to put my finger on why "Night Broken" didn't excite me.

It's not one thing. There's nothing actually wrong with this book.

 

Patricia Briggs writes with her usual wit and flair. There were a couple of really good fight-scenes, especially the one in Mercy's garage (who knew an engine could be used like that?). The plot promised a lot of fun: two new bad-guys, both powerful and scary are threatening Mercy and the Pack; Christie, Adam's ex-wife, is given shelter by the Pack and uses the opportunity to manipulate them and undermine Mercy;  Mercy gets to find out more about her Coyote side, including meeting her much-put-upon "Brother".

 

So what wasn't to like? The pace felt a little uneven. The bad-guys were dealt with a little too easily (one turning out to be not so bad after all). Christie's presence caused some tension but was dealt with in such an enlightened way that it felt a little anticlimactic.

 

Maybe I should be reading these things as Patricia Briggs bravely taking the path less travelled by but it didn't feel that way at the time.

 

"Night Broken" was an entertaining read. I just didn't enjoy it as much as "Frost Burned" or "River Marked"

 

I've been rationing myself to one Mercy Thompson book a month. A new month has just started, and I'm already looking forward to reading the ninth book, "Fire Touched".

 

As usual, Lorelie King's narration increased my enjoyment of the Mercy's adventure. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

 

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I habitually commit tsundoku 積ん読 but I'd like to stop.

tsundokujpg

 

I have a TBR (To Be Read) pile. Most people who buy more than a few books a year do, so I've tended to see it as normal. I tell myself that I don't have a problem; that I read a lot of books so it only makes sense to keep a good supply to hand so I'll never run out.

 

This would be fine if my TBR pile was a dozen or so books but it's bigger than that. Much bigger.

 

This year, I'm likely to read between 110 to 140 books.

 

According to my GoodReads shelves, I have 776 unread books. Add another 10% for physical books lying about that I've haven't put on GoodReads yet then, at my present rate of consumption, I have SIX YEARS worth of books on my shelves.

 

And every month I buy more.

 

This is something more than a TBR pile. This is what the Japanese call tsundoku. It describes people who buy books, leave them in piles and don't read them.  According to THIS HuffPost article, tsundoku:

"is a Japanese portmanteau of sorts, combining the words “tsunde” (meaning “to stack things”), “oku” (meaning “to leave for a while”) and “doku” (meaning “to read”). "

This word made me think a bit more about my behaviour and what it means.

Am I a BOOK HOARDER? Have I become like one of those people who has nowhere to cook or to entertain because every space is occupied by their collection of Star Wars memorabilia?

 

Am I a BOOK-BUYING ADDICT, getting my high from the act of buying and shelving a book rather than from reading it? Have I become the book buying version of someone buying every piece of shiny that QVC promotes?

 

NotHoarding

 

I'd like to say no to both of those things because, if they were true, well, I'd be ill and in need of help, wouldn't I?

 

Except, I may be in need of help because, when I ask myself, "could you stop buying books for a year?"  I immediately start to negotiate. I mean, what about the books in series I've already started but don't own all of yet? Or the Mann Booker List? Or Bailey's or the really cool author that debuted this month? I should be allowed those, shouldn't I?

 

So, I'm willing to accept that I've been habitually committing Tsundoku for some years now and it has to stop. Except I know that if I try to stop altogether, I'll fail so here's the deal I'm making with myself:

 

"From April 2018 to end March 2019, 90% of all books I read will come from the TBR pile that I have today."

 

This allows me about a dozen new books a year.

 

I'm going to monitor my progress by creating an FMTBR (From My To Be Read) tag for the books I read. I'll also track the gap between buying the book and reading it.

 

I still want reading to be the pleasure it is today. I just want to be able to root-out the Hoarder/Buying-Addict behaviours that have attached themselves to that pleasure like tics on a dog.

 

I'll let you know how I do.

My Best Reads, Best New Finds, Best New Series and Biggest Disappointment in January, February and March 2018

 

2018q1

 

In the past three months, I've read thirty-five books, thirty-one of them ranged from good fun to memorable read, three I opted not to finish and one I finished and wished I hadn't (see My Biggest Disappointment).

 

I would recommend most of the books I've read so far this year but I've selected the seven I think truly stand out. I hope at least one of them snags your interest.

 

Best Mainstream Reads of the Quarter

 

anything is possiblePerhaps the most remarkable thing about "Anything Is Possible" is how readable it is. I found myself having to ration out the book so that I wouldn’t consume it in a single sitting.

 

Yet this isn’t page-turning in the conventional sense. There’s no complex and clever plot to unravel, no sense of threat or intrigue to tease yourself with page after page. There is just life as we all live it.

 

What makes it compelling is not that I want to know what happens next but that I want to know these people and, in the process, I want to know more about how their experiences mirror mine.

 

Each chapter focuses on someone who was in the supporting cast of characters when Lucy Barton was recalling her childhood in *My Name Is Lucy Barton”, In “Anything Is Possible”, each of them gets to be centre-stage for a while, the prime mover in their own universe. Each universe exercises a gravitational pull on at least one of the other universes in the book. We get a guided tour of their universe with the authorial voice capturing every emotion, memory and reaction with an empathy so deep you could drown in it.

 

The message I took away from the book is that living through things we don’t like is unavoidable. Life cannot be pain-free. We live and love imperfectly. We drag our past after us. Compassion, forgiveness and kindness are the best salves available to us.

 

dance gladys dance "Dance, Gladys, Dance" starts with Frieda Zweig looking, at twenty-seven, for a fresh start where she can put aside her former life as a would-be artist and live a life more ordinary.

 

To help with this self-imposed task, Frieda defines  "Five Steps To An Ordinary Life":

1. Get a real job.
2. Stop seeing the world as a series of potential paintings.
3. Learn how to talk about the weather.
4. Do the things that normal people do.
5. Figure out what normal people actually do.

Frieda's doomed attempt to embrace the ordinary leads her to rent a room in a Victorian house owned by a widower who teaches photography at a local Arts Centre.

 

After she moves in, she meets, Gladys, the ghost of the first woman to live in the house.

 

In addition to a cleverly designed set of events in the present day that weave together the fates of a number of strong characters, we have chapters that tell us more about Freida's life and how she came to give up on the idea of being an artist and, bit by bit, we hear Gladys' story.

 

Many of the characters in the book are damaged or in pain, because they lack belief in their own talent or they have given up on their belief that they can be who they want to be. The book shows women in particular as being at risk of losing themselves in this way or being denied the right to use their talent.

 

The message of the book seems to be: trust yourself, use your talent and take the small opportunities we all have to make the world a less awful place to live in. Delivering this message without coming across as either didactic or sentimental is what makes this book such a triumph.

 

lost-for-words-final-b

"Lost For Words" was my first "recommend to anyone who reads" novel of 2018.

 

Set mostly in the Lost For Words bookshop in York, this novel follows Loveday Cardew as she decides whether and how to move beyond surviving in the refuge she has built for herself in the bookshop and start living a richer life, shaped by hope rather than fear.

 

I liked Loveday. She is comfortable in her own skin. She is a loner, not just because she has poor social skills but because she doesn't like most people. Most of the time, she prefers spending time, hunting, shelving, selling and reading books than she does talking to people and she has no problem with that.

 

Yet Loveday is not entirely who she wants to be. She has a secret that she hugs to herself that keeps a little more distance between her and the world than she would like to have. She knows that keeping the secret secret prevents her from being herself. She fears that sharing the secret will destroy the small safe space she lives in.

 

This is a novel about trust: how hard it is to win, how easy it is to lose, how necessary it is for happiness. Loveday has three men in her life: the larger than life owner of the bookshop who rescued her and offered her safe haven, the unpleasant and perhaps unbalanced ex-boyfriend who won't accept the ex designation and the young man, full-time magician and part-time poet, who she has just met. Her interactions with them, with the books in the bookshop and with her own past create the landscape through which Loveday is trying to find her way to a better future.

 

"Lost For Words" deals with abuse, male violence, mental illness, guilt and the possibility of hope, while staying down to earth and credible. Loveday is someone I can easily imagine meeting. Someone hard to get to know but worth the effort.

 

Best New Finds of the Quarter

 

Dinosaurs-cover-J5-e1488291550745

Danielle McLaughlin's debut short story collection, "Dinosaurs On Other Planets" is emotionally powerful, deeply insightful and written with a deft touch that is compelling without being intrusive.

 

It took me a little over two months to read the eleven stories in this collection because each one demands a period of reflection before moving on to the next. Each has its own flavour that I found I wanted to savour by itself for a while.

 

This is one of those rare collections where all the stories a strong and the themes and types of people that they cover are diverse. What binds them together is clear, simple but beautiful writing and an insight into people that is acute and dispassionate to the point of fatalism. You can find a review of each story here.

 

 

 

 

American War

At the start of "American War" the narrator tells us:

"This isn't a story about war, it's about ruin."

It's a ruin that comes about from a belief found in conflicts everywhere:

"In this part of the world right and wrong ain't about who  wins or who kills who. In this part of the world, right and wrong ain't even about right and wrong. It's about what you do for your own".

Treating others differently than your own seems to be a basic human response. When war comes, this response is the oxygen feeding the fire that turns everything it touches to ash and embers.

 

Omar El Akkad shows us this by putting us in the shoes of the losing side: the oppressed, the refugees, the ones who have seen everyone they love and everything they care about destroyed by an enemy so powerful that victory is unimaginable and the only possibilities are survival or revenge.

 

What makes "American War" powerful isn't the imagining of a 2075 America, damaged by global warming and collapsing into a civil war, prompted by the South's refusal to stop using fossil fuels but the creation of Sara T Chestnut - who calls herself Sarat. Sarat is a bright, curious young girl from Louisianna who is broken and finally destroyed by a war she had no part in making and a need for revenge that she cannot let go of.

 

As we follow Sarat through years of war that slowly extinguish hope and replace it with shame, anger and an insatiable need for revenge. We see Sarat's slow transformation, t, from a bright, curious child, into a fierce fighter and then to a woman broken and in constant pain, We see

 

Sarat is neither hero nor saint. She is strong, brave, bright and fierce. She has also been fundamentally ruined by the war she has lived through. What she does is literally atrocious. Why she does it is completely understandable.

 

Best New Series of the Quarter

 

I've selected two series that are new to me but which have already been around long enough to build a fanbase. "Urban Shaman", the first in the "Walker" series, was published in 2005 and eight more books have been added since. "Rosemary And Rue", the first in the "October Daye" series, was published in 2009 and twelve more books have been added since. I recommend them to you because they still feel fresh and exciting.

 

 

urban shaman

When I saw the pitch for "Urban Shaman", I was sceptical: an Urban Fantasy book that blends Celtic and Cherokee myth in the form of a modern-day Seatle PD cop. How likely was that to work?

 

About five chapters in, my response was, "WOW. Why haven't I heard of this series before?" A day later, having finished the book in a self-indulgent binge read, I had a grin on my face because I'd found my new Urban Fantasy series for 2018.

 

What C. E. Murphy has done by merging Celtic and Cherokee myth is bold, original and more than a little risky but she pulls it off. The action is more a "Dr Strange"fight-the-forces-of-evil-while-travelling-outside-your-body-on-another-plane kind of thing than it is an "Avengers" hit-your-enemy-with-your-hammer /shield/large green fist type of thing. That's hard to do and may not appeal to everyone but Murphy does it well and I loved every minute of it.

 

Joanne Walker is likeable and has a character that is deeper and more complex than the usual kickass heroine with a sharp line of chat and a flair for martial arts. Most of the time Joanne has no idea what she's doing and words frequently fail her. I found this quite refreshing. The secondary characters, from the voluable cab driver to the perfectionist Police Captain, swiftly move from archetype to someone credible and interesting. The astral conflicts are described in surprisingly down to earth ways and conflict resolution is never about who has the biggest sword.

 

As a standalone book, it's fun, fast and fresh. As the first book in a series, it fills me with anticipation.

 

Rosemary and Rue

"Rosemary and Rue", the first book of the October Daye series,  is an extraordinary piece of Urban Fantasy. It is sombre, complex and well written, a combination I can't resist.

 

It's not a normal Urban Fantasy story with a kiss-ass heroine whose magical powers and strength of personality allow her to triumph against overwhelming odds and live to fight another day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

 

October Daye is not a heroine. She's just someone trying to find a place for herself in the two worlds her half-fae half-human blood straddle. Finding a place is more about survival than ambition. October lives in a world where failure has consequences and success has a price. It is grim, unforgiving and relentless.

 

The world.building in "Rosemary and Rue" is skilfull and original. October takes for granted abuse of power and levels of punishment that makes the "magical" world very far away from Disney Princesses and much closer to the Brothers Grimm. To me it seemed to be to Urban Fantasy what Cyberpunk was to Science Fiction - a grimier, more credible version that was less about escapism and more about mirroring how the normal world works.

 

Biggest Disappointment of the Quarter

 

year one"Year One" disappointed me not because it's badly written or poorly structured but because I found myself deeply out of sympathy with the values of the Good Guys, annoyed at the saccharine romance of the alpha pair and turned off by the obsession with fate and Messianic redemption. 

 

"Year One" is a sort of urban fantasy twist on "The Stand". It tracks the path of groups of survivors of "The Doom", a virus which kills anyone who is not immune. As billions die, some of the immune discover latent magical powers and find themselves drawn to The Dark or The Light.

 

It's an easy to read entertainment that effortlessly manages the large number of characters and multiple initially parallel but eventually converging plot lines. The good guys are clearly drawn and instantly likeable. There are babies and a lab-cross dog. The bad guys are irredeemably evil and everyone else is either dead or consumed by fear.

As the book progressed I lost sympathy with the Good Guy characters, most of whom were from privileged, sometimes very privileged, backgrounds mourning the loss of their bright futures. It turns out that the secret to surviving the apocalypse is to band together with skilled people who embrace middle-class values, choose faith over fear, work together as a team and focus on "doing what comes next". Of course, emergent magical powers are also pretty useful.

 

What spooked me about it in "Year One" is that Nora Roberts wraps such positive emotions around these values that they slid into my imagination already tagged as a Good Thing. Then I thought about the scale of loss, of the billions dead, of cultures across the world extinguished, of losing everyone you ever loved, of having the value of your previous life challenged or eroded and it seemed to me that the main characters react almost as if they're on medication. Their ability to focus "on what needs doing" is certainly a survival skill but the ease with which they do it, the unthinking adoption of the "I'll protect Us against Them" mindset and the strong link Nora Robers makes between this stance and The Light made it difficult for me to empathise with or care about these people.

 

Later, I struggled with Nora Roberts' obsession with the idea that some things are "meant", that they're part of a "destiny", that it isn't enough for people to be attractive, privileged, educated and have magical gifts, they also have to have some kind of pintable-tilting agents of fate on their side. This began to feel like the dystopian urban fantasy version of meeting Mr Right.

 

At about the same time, we got the sex scene between the Alpha witch couple, Max and Lorna, the two "good guys" that I liked least, and it surfaced everything I disliked about the book: the sex was glossy, the sentiment was saccharine and the allegedly spontaneous vows that followed were so cliché-filled and delivered with such self-absorbed seriousness that I felt I'd dropped into the middle of a romance novel.

 

What finally extinguished my interest in this series was the idea of a Messianic "One" being sent to save the world. It's too "In God We (white, beautiful, magically-endowed people) Trust" for my British Athiest sensibilities.

Review
4 Stars
"Nobody Cries At Bingo" by Dawn Dumont
Nobody Cries at Bingo - Dawn Dumont

"Nobody Cries At Bingo" is a memoir of Dawn Dumont's life from early childhood through to her early years in college. It's not an "I was born on a dark and stormy night" kind of read that goes from conception to emancipation in an order driven only by the logic of the calendar. It's much more interesting than that.

 

It's a series of episodes from Dawn's life, each one completely immersive and self-explanatory but which together build up layers of memory of people and events and relationships that better reflect how we remember our lives than any do-it-by-the-timeline history.

 

Dawn Dumont grew up in the Okanese First Nation in southern Saskatchewan. The life she is describing is far away from my own upbringing in an Irish-Catholic community in the NorthWest of England yet Dawn Dumont bridges that gap, showing me how similar large families from minority communities can be. She also shows me how unique her way of life and the history of her people is.

 

The thing that shone through all the episodes Dawn Dumont describes is that she grew up in a family where she knew she was loved and where people looked after one another. This isn't something she says directly. At a first glance, the sometimes nomadic life adopted by her mother in the face of her father's alcoholism, the racism in the school she attends, the stories of kids running wild in packs could be seen as a cry for intervention but that would be a fundamental misunderstanding. The starting point here is love. Love allows freedom, offers forgiveness and never walks away for good. That changes the context of the all the behaviour. It doesn't make it perfect, just different.

 

Dawn Dumont is a stand-up comic as well as an author and she describes incidents from her life in ways that made me want to smile even when they also made me want to cry.The nature of Dawn Dumont's humour is emblematic of the way of life she is describing: it is optimistic, unaggressive and deeply insightful. Dawn doesn't use sarcasm or get laughs by playing on or against stereotypes. She laughs at herself and her responses as much as she laughs at those who try to do her harm or those who are just part of the constant chaos that she takes for granted.  This is a humour that makes you laugh because laughter keeps you human.

 

I was completely ignorant of First Nation history in Canada. I hadn't realised that the same attempts at cultural annihilation where made there as in the US. I've been to the Navaho and the Hopi and Pueblo people's and heard their stories. Naively, I had expected better of Canada. Dawn Dumont makes tackles the history of her people in a matter of fact way that does not dismiss or minimise what was done to her parents and her grandparents or what continues to happen today, but which seems to say: "It happened. It was crap. But we're still here." I admire the strength of that.

 

"Nobody Cries At Bingo" is a personal narrative, not the history of a nation. Dawn rolls our her life and lets us look at it and smile at her remembered self. It's inclusive and funny and feels honest and intimate.

 

I wasn't able to find an audiobook version of "Nobody Cries At Bingo", which surprised me as Dawn Dumont is a narrator and her text would be perfect as an audiobook.

 

If you're looking to get a gentle, funny, honest look at a girl's remembered childhood, this is the book for you. Along the way, you may learn a thing or two about what it means to be Native in modern Canada.

 

Dawn Dumont's latest book "Rose's Run" is now in my TBR pile ( yet again only in ebook - doesn't anyone want to do First Nation audiobooks?).

 

Dawn.Dumont

 

Dawn Dumont is a stand-up comedian, actor, writer, TV host, speaker, and activist. She has appeared in comedy clubs across North America, is the author of  Nobody Cries at Bingo and Rose’s Run, has written plays for the stage and screen, and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines.

Reblogged
7 Science-Backed Ways Reading Makes You Healthy [Infographic]

 

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

- Joseph Addison

 

Reading is more than just a pleasure. Books make your life better. Reading challenges your mind and delights your soul. It keeps you well informed and entertain. If you lack the reading habit, make sure you overcome the reluctance and grab a book as the following infographic prepared by Global English Editing will prove reading can make your life longer, less stressful, full of dreams and social gatherings. 

 

Keep on reading! 

 

 

Source: https://geediting.com/7-science-backed-ways-reading-makes-healthy-infographic/

Reblogged from BookLikes
Source: http://geediting.com/7-science-backed-ways-reading-makes-healthy-infographic
Review
4 Stars
"Star Witch - The Lazy Girl's Guide To Magic #2" by Helen Harper
Star Witch - Helen   Harper, Tanya Eby

This is a joyful, tongue-in-cheek, piece of fun. It's an ice cream sundae with scoops of witty humour, cosy mystery, and dissected Reality TV, topped with smooth swirls of Rom-Com and sprinkled with the occasional zombie.

 

It takes a deft touch to write something this light and get it right but Helen Harper makes it seem easy, 

 

I started "Star Witch" on a day when I'd been struck down by a merciless head cold. Not only did "Star Witch" provide me with an escape but it kept me smiling throughout and sometimes made me laugh out loud.

 

"Star Witch" carries on from "Slouch Witch". This time, the Order (who expelled her in her youth and who she rescued in "Slouch Witch"), ask Ivy to go under-cover on her favourite Reality TV Show, "Enchantment"  Ivy's never missed an episode but is put off by the prospect of all that work. Still, it gives her the opportunity to work with the man she has a big crush on and she'll get to see how reality TV works.

 

The book moves along at a pace, with Ivy's dry humour slicing left and right. There's a real plot and even a strong sense of threat at times.

 

Tanya Eby does a good job as the narrator, even though she inexplicably give Ivy an American accent.

 

I recommend it to anyone who wants to free their mind for a while and go to a better place with fun-to-be-with people. 

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Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente