From Egypt To The Virgin Islands…

land of love and drowningThe Visitors by Sally Beauman Goodreads / Amazon

I had high hopes for this one, which might have unfairly colored my opinion…but still, I was totally let down. The story is based on the true story of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb (hello, Amelia Peabody feels!). The narrator is a young girl who travels to Egypt to recover from typhoid and finds herself on the periphery of the discovery team.

As her life unfolds, various events occur that tie back into that time in 1920s Egypt. There is (weird) family drama, mysterious reports sniffing around her and her story as an old woman and just…a lot. Lots and lots of stuff packed into the book. Some of it makes sense, some of it is bizarre…ultimately though, it was boring. I was not invested in the characters or their stories – I love reading things set in historical Egypt, so I know it wasn’t just me!

Basically what I’m saying is that if you’re just curious about the time period, you should totally check out Amelia Peabody instead. If you’re already a fan? Definitely pick this up and see if your opinion differs from mine!

Land of Love & Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique Goodreads / Amazon

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this one, you guys.

To start with, there are some icky family relationship issues that tie into the story. That isn’t something that especially bothers me when it isn’t overly graphic (other than said ick factor), but I’m just saying, fair warning. This story? It’s a weird one.

That being said, dude. The writing/storytelling is pretty phenomenal. The story, set on the Virgin Islands in the early 1900s, is so incredibly atmospheric. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never read anything set there before. Now I want more! All the Caribbean folklore and witchiness weaved into the story were fantastic. I also loved seeing bits and pieces of how the locals started trying to fit into life as newly minted Americans, and the part they played in WWII. Basically I’m saying that both the local and more national aspects to the story were fascinating.

The different ways all the characters connect is complicated, interesting, coincidental, fated…lots of words. In fact, the main relationship that the story kinda revolves around was so engaging that I pretty much ended up forgetting to be grossed out by the fact that they were siblings. (To be fair, they didn’t know – not a spoiler, there’s lots of heavy foreshadowing.)

Basically, if you aren’t afraid to tackle a story that’s a little…out there, shall we say? Pick this book up ASAP! The beautiful writing and atmospheric setting will wrap you up into the narrative so quickly that you won’t even realize how sucked in you are until the story spits you back out once you’ve finished.

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The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

all souls trilogy deborah harkness

Witches, vampires, libraries, mysterious manuscripts, rich historical details, romance, family drama…did I mention libraries and mysterious manuscripts? This is a really fun, complex and romantic trilogy, you guys!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness Goodreads / Amazon

This trilogy is always being referred to as “Twilight for adults,” but I think that, of the three, the only book that applies to in the slightest is this one. As the various mysteries and plotlines are being introduced, everything ties back in so heavily with the main romance between Diana and Matthew (who, yes, is a vampire). If you’re willing to pay attention though, the plot basically explodes as the series continues and this trilogy becomes so much more than just another paranormal romance trilogy!

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness Goodreads / Amazon

I love historical fantasy – adore it, even. The fact that this book is so markedly different from the first is just cool. Most of the secondary characters we know and love from the first book get set aside here for a whole new cast to meet from Elizabethan England. I think the decision to set basically this entire book in the past was so gutsy and smart. The mystery surrounding the Ashmole manuscript deepens and we learn a lot more about Matthew’s fascinating family.

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness Goodreads / Amazon

I was so impressed with this conclusion to the trilogy, you guys. The plot got so fascinatingly complex and twisty! So many dangling plot threads – from small to large – get picked back up in the most interesting ways. Characters from both the first and second books all come together and…man, it’s just so great. The payoff of following this story to the conclusion is as grand as it is satisfying! I won’t spoil anything for you, but seriously. If you are at all a fan of paranormal romance with a rich, engaging plotline that isn’t just window dressing? This trilogy is worth your time!

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Let’s Swashbuckle, Shall We?

It’s been over a month, but I’m still coming down off the high I’ve been on since watching the fabulous season finale of Once Upon a Time. Since then, I’ve been reading a lot more fairy tale retellings – I’ll start talking more about those soon! But, I also picked out a stack of pirate novels to tackle. For Captain Hook reasons.

Reading to get through the Once Upon a Time hiatus. It should be a thing.

pirate novels

The Sea-Hawk by Rafael Sabatini Goodreads / Amazon

Women and revenge. The downfall of pirates everywhere, y’all.

So, this is a legit old-school adventure novel, you guys. A guy gets tricked by someone he trusted into taking the blame for a murder and ends up slaving on a ship. He eventually rises into fame by becoming the Sea Hawk, a feared pirate captain and vows to take revenge on the people that wronged him. Plus, there’s a girl. And some Muslims. And treacherous women that try to kill  him.

Sometimes the characters got on my nerves – especially the women. But come on, reading this was fun! Plus, the language is so fantastic. Check out some of these great lines:

“‘Thou dog,’ I cried, ‘thou shalt be made to suffer!'”

***

“His thwarted desires of yesterday were the despots of his wits.”

***

“‘Unsay thy words, thou offal. Pronounce thyself a liar and a dog.'”

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly Goodreads / Amazon

Reading non-fiction books about pirates can be kind of a downer, because it’s the time when you have to face the fact that pirates aren’t actually romantic heroes. They’re, you know…actual raping, pillaging douchebags. Still though, this was a fascinating read! I admit that I did a little skimming when the topic wasn’t something that particularly interested me, but for the most part I enjoyed as I learned. From the different flags they used to women pirates to the sometimes fine line between the sanctioned privateers vs. actual pirates. Plus, now I really wanna reread Treasure Island…

“The fact is that we want to believe in the world of the pirates as it has been portrayed in the adventure stories, the plays, and the films over the years. We want the myths, the treasure maps, the buried treasure, the walking the plank, the resolute pirates captins with their cutlasses and earrings, and the seamen with their wooden legs and parrots. We prefer to forget the barbaric tortures and the hangings, and the desperate plight of men shipwrecked on hostile coasts. For most of us the pirates will always be romantic outlaws living far from civilization on some distant sunny shore.”

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon Goodreads / Amazon

This book was recommended on the Book Riot Podcast for fans of pirate novels even though the characters practice their thieving traveling from town to town via mountains and roadways. It’s the spirit of the thing that matters, right?

Basically, I loved this story to pieces. It’s takes place around the year 950. A skinny Jew and an African giant, loyal to each other beyond all reason, go from thieves and bamboozlers to accidental leaders of a revolution. Tell me that doesn’t sound awesome! The somewhat dry sounding synopsis I saw is so misleading, because believe it or not – this book is hilarious.

The characterization and the dialogue were just so breathtakingly good that I found myself giddy at times. One thing I loved was that the characters did have a kind of code they followed (good form, shall we say?). Take a look at one of my favorite bookmarked passages (both for the writing style and the interesting moral declaration):

“‘I am not overly encumbered by principle, as you know,’ Zelikman continued. ‘I am a gentleman of the road, an apostate from the faith of my fathers, a renegade, a brigand, a hired blade, a thief, but on this one small principle of economy, damn you, and damn that troublemaking little stripling, and damn every one of those men out there, living men, in full possession, for the most part, of all their limbs and humors, I have to hold firm: if we can only save them one man at a time, then by God we must only kill them one man at a time.'”

 

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In Which I Read Short Story Collections…

For the most part, experimenting with short story collections has gone really well! Some of these were for review and some of them I picked up because they came highly recommended. Check out my thoughts…

short stories one

Redeployment by Phil Klay Goodreads / Amazon

I tried to imagine what it would be like if a perpetually optimistic, happy-go-lucky type of person read this. The only image I could summon was watching someone kick a puppy. This is a really gritty and raw look at the war and the effects it has on people, and I can only assume it is incredibly realistic. It certainly feels so. None of the stories end on what I’d call a happy note – some worse than others. All that being said, I loved reading it! I got pretty invested in almost every single story, both the language and characters made a pretty lasting impression on me. If this sounds at all like something you would be interested in, I highly recommend it!

Thunderstruck and Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken Goodreads / Amazon

This is the only collection that I didn’t really connect with. The stories and characters were all just okay for me – I didn’t dislike anything, but for the most part nothing really stuck out to me either. One exception – the writing. GOOD LORD YOU GUYS, THE WRITING. I already have another of McCracken’s books to pick up because of how much I loved the writing. If you’re the type of reader that values style above all else? You should probably kick the elderly out of the way if it means getting to the bookstore faster. Otherwise…maybe skip it.

“It was one of the reasons they belonged together: they were flea market people, put together out of odd parts.”

*****

“She clutched a book in her hand in such a way that it looked like a knife she was prepared to use on herself…”

 

short stories two

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories by Carson McCullers Goodreads / Amazon

I enjoyed every story in this collection, but the title story was far and away my favorite. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe was touching and weird and sad and lonely and hopeful and ALL THE THINGS! This was my first exposure to Carson McCullers, but it will absolutely not be my last. If you like reading historical stories set in the rural South, this should be a must-read on your list.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri Goodreads / Amazon

I love reading books – both fiction and nonfiction – set in India, so it’s a little bit of a crime I haven’t picked up Jhumpa Lahiri sooner. These stories, set in both India and in the United States, all have something memorable about them. Whether the narrators are young or old, men or women – they have all stuck with me ever since I finished reading. Some of the characters face the same problems everyone in the world faces, some of them face problems slightly more specific to their home country of India. Regardless, all the stories celebrate and underline humanity in the best and worst ways and I absolutely can’t wait to pick up my next book by Lahiri!

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Memoir Reading Roundup

Memoir Reading Roundup

I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star by Judy Greer Goodreads / Amazon

As I mention in the next review, I enjoy listening to these kind of memoirs a lot as audiobooks. Unfortunately, I read this galley on my Kindle and I think I’d have enjoyed it more as an audio. (Does Judy Greer read the audio? I don’t even know.) BUT – I did still enjoy it. She had an interesting story to tell via her experiences as a co-star on a variety of projects. She also didn’t try too hard to be amusing, I felt like her natural sense of humor came through well. There wasn’t a lot for me to relate to throughout the book, but it was a quick read and overall, I’m glad I picked it up.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling Goodreads / Amazon

I listened to this audiobook over the course of one day during the recent 24 hour readathon. You guys – it was so great! Funny, interesting, cute…a super great choice to cram into such a short amount of time. I never got bored or wished for it to move faster. The pacing was perfect, and I love Mindy Kaling’s voice. I’m not sure that I would have felt the same way if I hadn’t listened to her reading the story, but I have no doubts about recommending the audiobook if you enjoy this kind of funny/self-deprecating  memoir. Of the three, this is far and away the one I’d recommend the most for newbies to the memoir genre.

Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel by Jason Padgett and Maureen Ann Seaberg Goodreads / Amazon

Wow, Jason Padgett has one heck of an original story to tell, you guys! After being pretty badly beaten, his life changes in a pretty monumental way when he develops mathematical synesthesia. He goes from viewing the world the same as the majority of the rest of us to seeing mathematical formulas and geometrical shapes in everything. Like – literally sees them. I can’t even imagine how scary/overwhelming/thrilling that would be. Fortunately, this book does a pretty good job of telling me! I enjoyed the comparisons of his life “before” and “after” and how much his life has changed and how this ability is both a gift and a curse, and how much work it was for him to find a way to harness it. Even if you don’t like math (believe me, I don’t), this is an extremely fascinating story! I’m not sure if it’s one I would recommend if you don’t normally read memoirs, but if you do? Definitely pick it up.

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Foodie Book Reviews

You guys, I’ve read four foodie-ish books lately – two fiction and two memoir. A couple were good, and a couple were great! You definitely don’t need to be interested in food or cooking to enjoy most of these, so check them out!

foodie books

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl Goodreads / Amazon

I loved this book, you guys! I read it in one sitting because I absolutely had to see where things were going – and then, how they’d turn out. Ruth Reichl is known for writing memoirs, and this is her first published novel. It’s pretty dazzling! It switches back and forth between past and present – starting with Billie, working in a really cool old mansion that used to house a prominent food magazine. In the past, during World War II, famous chef James Beard is corresponding with a young girl who takes her mind off worrying about her father off at war by obsessing over the best way to cook with rations. There is romance, intrigue, mystery – and several really cool reveals! I adored every single piece of the puzzle and will totally be recommending this far and wide.

Chop Chop by Simon Wroe Goodreads / Amazon

This book is totally kooky. The main character, known as Monocle, is having more trouble breaking into the London literary scene than he expected, so he grabs a job at a gastro-pub to pay the rent. His co-workers are a bunch of complete weirdos, some in a good way (and some not so much). There is also a deadbeat dad and a local crime lord in the mix…

This book actually doesn’t have a lot of plot – it’s mostly just the hilarious exploits of the kitchen crew. I mean it guys: hilarious. If you don’t mind a heaping helping of raunchy, crazy British humor? Pick this up posthaste!

foodie books

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg Goodreads / Amazon

This is a memoir about a couple starting a pizza restaurant in Seattle. It might not sound that thrilling if you’re not interested in that kinda thing, but it’s pretty darn good! Molly Wizenberg has a really laid-back and enjoyable writing style; it was like listening to a story about friends by a friend. From finding the perfect venue to the right recipes to the marital discord, it all felt incredibly personal. Definitely recommended for memoir fans, interested in food or not.

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney Goodreads / Amazon

This is probably the only book on this list I’d say to steer clear of if you don’t care about food. Like, you should probably be the type of person that watches Food Network constantly regardless of whether you actually plan to cook any of the things the chefs are making. This book chronicles a day in the life of a sous chef – that is literally the entire contents of the book. From details about the way the cold storage is organized to the various types of knives different chefs use to how daily specials are created. I enjoyed it, but it probably isn’t for everyone.

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