Mrs. Harlow’s Quarantine Reads! Ep. 4

One of these days I’ll write an actual book review again. Until then, I hope you’re enjoying these videos!

 

Stay safe and healthy, Bloggarts. I’ll be back before you know it to talk about goals.

 

BZ

Book Review – City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake #1) by Victoria Schwab

Blogland! My reading is picking up as the year draws to a close, as is tradition. I’m too competitive not to make a mad dash for my Goodreads Challenge goal, no matter how far behind I am.

City of Ghosts was not on my radar at all until quite recently. I discovered V.E. Schwab this year when a migraine struck and I listened to the A Darker Shade of Magic audiobook. The next two weeks had me feverishly consuming the sequels and adding any and all of her books to my TBR. But somehow, this book got missed.

Then I saw it on the shelf of my school library’s YA section and had a minor heart attack. I bought the audiobook with an audible credit and listened to it in two sittings. I have zero regrets.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

city of ghosts

Cassidy Blake is eleven years old and like a lot of only children, she has an invisible friend. The difference is that Jacob is very, very real. He’s just a ghost! After she fell in an icy river and quite literally died, Jacob saved her and brought her back to the land of the living. They’ve been inseparable ever since, and Cassidy has been able to cross the “Veil” to the land of ghosts, where she explores and takes creepy photographs of the beyond.

It’s all innocent fun until her parents announce they’re starring in a new show, The Inspectres, where they travel the world and investigate haunted cities. The traveling bit sounds cool, but the haunted bits sound… problematic. Especially since, out of her whole family, she’s the only one who’s ever actually seen a ghost.

So off to Scotland they go, with Jacob and the cat, Grim, in tow.

What I loved:

  • I loved the characters. I know, what a surprise, right? But, man, Victoria Schwab writes people so so well. I loved Cassidy’s wry humor and her affection for Jacob. I love Jacob, his nervousness, his timidity, and his sarcastic banter with Cassidy. I loved that Cassidy has a good relationship with her parents and that they seem to really love one another. I thought the whole family dynamic was super believable, especially since I was an only child, at least until I was almost 16.
  • The setting! I’ve always entertained the idea of visiting Scotland, but don’t really know much about the country, or of Edinburgh. Schwab’s descriptions really struck me. I’d love to see the city and the castle and absorb the general vibes of the place. So, thanks for that Schwab.
  • The narration! Reba Buhr read the book and did a fantastic job. I’ve read enough of Schwab now to recognize her writing no matter who’s reading, but I liked the voices and accents she did. It really helped me get immersed in the story.

What I didn’t love:

  • Um… it was a bit lower level than I’m used to reading. That’s not really a problem with the book, it just left me wanting more. The plot was largely predictable, but still good. I just wasn’t as engaged with the material as I would have been with an older Teen or Adult story.
  • I didn’t super like Laura. She felt sort of forced and I can’t really say how or why. I kept waiting for her to be the bad guy, and she wasn’t, so maybe that had something to do with it.

I love Victoria (V.E.) Schwab and this book is no exception. Not necessarily her best, but I’m also not the target audience. For middle school-aged me, it would have been an instant favorite.

There is a sequel, which I’ve already downloaded on audible, but I’m… hesitant. Ok, really talk, the sequel is called Tunnel of Bones and is set in Paris. They are FOR SURE going into the catacombs and… I can’t. Like, just the idea of the catacombs makes my heart race. Creepy, underground tunnels are a major fear of mine. Dunno why but just thinking about them makes me break out in a nervous sweat.

So, yeah. Might have to take it slow with that one.

I finished Gideon the Ninth and started reading Vengeful tonight. Lots of reading and a little writing. Life is good.

Talk soon, Bloggarts.

 

BZ

Book Review – Circe by Madeline Miller

This book was not on my TBR. I’d heard of it, thanks to my work in libraries; there was a lot of buzz around Circe when it first came out. Co-workers raved, it made several awards lists that season, and patrons kept checking it out. And yet, it never once lured me to add it to my To-Be-Read list.

And then my school’s staff book club chose it for its Fantasy Month. Despite my misgivings about it not really being a fantasy novel, I read it all the way to the end. My book club hasn’t met yet to discuss it, but I’m ready to share my thoughts here.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

circe book cover

Circe is the story of the Witch of Aiaia, daughter of Helios, exiled for eternity. She turned evil men to pigs, loved Daedalus, and Odysseus, and later Telemachus. She’s a figure from Greek Mythology, and this book is her first person account of her life.

The problem is, I had no idea who she was before I started this book. You see, the last time I studied mythology was my sophomore year of high school. We read Edith Hamilton and I remember hating it. Sixteen year old me found mythology so incredibly boring I blocked out all memory of the entire unit. Which really did me a disservice because this whole book HINGES on the reader knowing the bare minimum of who the F*&K Circe is! I missed out on a ton of dramatic irony and tension because I literally knew NOTHING about Circe going into this book. Whoops!

What I loved about this book:

  • The writing! Madeline Miller’s prose is absolutely gorgeous and I frequently had to stop and reread lines that took my breath away. The novel is extremely atmospheric and I appreciated how she brought these deities to life.
  • I really liked how Miller wrote Circe’s love for the various men in her life. She described them with details that showed Circe’s affection, that the way she saw them proved her love. It was beautiful.

What I didn’t love:

  • Um… the whole plot? It meandered and not a whole lot happened. Circe spent most of her time moping around and being extremely passive. She didn’t actually become an active character until she suffered at the hands of some stranded dudes who attacked her. She then takes her vengeance on pretty much all men by turning them into pigs. She doesn’t settle down until Odysseus charms her into freeing his men and sleeping with him. Which in hindsight is pretty wack.
  • The pacing. It felt very one note until the last 80 pages or so, when more characters showed up and started interacting with Circe. Looking back I think that was intentional, that Circe let her self-worth be so wrapped up in others for so long, but damn was that a looooong story to get through for her to grow.

I gave this book a 4/5 star rating pretty much purely because of the sheer beauty of the writing. For instance, “But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

Or perhaps, “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

Those are just the two examples that came to me off the top of my head and I love them. They are gorgeous. Profound. The constellation one in particular hit home while I was reading.

So, my final verdict is this: a gorgeous book that’s just a little too slow for my taste. I like an atmospheric read for my short fiction, but expect a bit more punch for my novels apparently. I’m reading Gideon the Ninth right now, which more than makes up for what Circe lacked in grit, so I’ve got that going for me.

If I get City of Ghosts finished before the end of the weekend I might eke in a book review for it. If not, I’ll talk at you all on Monday!

‘Til then, Blogland!

 

BZ

Book Review – Vicious (Villains #1) by V.E. Schwab

This book has been in my TBR since it came out, I think. It’s been on my radar for far too long, and yet again I’m upset with myself for putting it off for so long.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Vicious

Vicious is a tale of revenge, first and foremost. It does absolutely nothing to hide that fact. Victor Vale is a brilliant college student that has lived an extremely privileged yet neglected life. His parents are famous psychologists who write an obnoxious series of self-help books that Victor gleefully vandalizes in the name of art while they travel the world. His best friend and roommate is Eliot Cardale (aka Eli), and their penchant for science makes them hyper-competitive with one another.

When Eli comes up with an insane thesis about Extra Ordinaries (EOs for short) Victor is fascinated. EOs are just a rumor, a modern myth about people who have unnatural abilities. But Eli is convinced that they’re real, and he thinks he knows how to make himself one. But there’s a catch: You have to die and somehow be brought back to life. It’s madness, but Victor and Eli are used to playing intellectual chicken with one another, so when Victor suggests they try it out Eli can’t say no.

It’s a decision that changes their lives forever and destroys their friendship, leaving Victor with nothing more to live for than his need to destroy Eli at any cost.

What I loved:

  • The characters. Despite Schwab’s insistence that there are no good guys in this story, I couldn’t help but root for Victor, Mitch, and Sydney. I love them. I love how seemingly cold and calculating Victor is. How damaged. Every piece of him is sharp, and yet he isn’t inhuman no matter how much he argues and believes otherwise. In his own way he cares for Sydney and even Mitch, even as he uses them. I love that complexity.
  • The narrative. Schwab tells the story in leaps and bounds. One scene is from ten years in the past, then the very next is only two days ago. Then the present. Then the past again. I often enjoy non-linear storylines if they’re clear that’s what they’re doing. Schwab handled it beautifully. vicious 2
  • The plot! This book has an insane premise that is at once fantastical and utterly believable. Two young men, too thrilled with the concept of what they can do they never once doubt whether or not they should, get caught up in a decade long feud and a plot for revenge. Love. It.

What I didn’t:

  • Uhhhh. Well, this is awkward. I’m not sure there was anything I didn’t like about this book. I didn’t like Eli. Which I constantly wondered about. Why didn’t I like him? He’s no worse than Victor. Hell, in some ways he’s better!  He has a moral code, even if it is real freaking dubious. He wasn’t wrong in the earlier years of the story, but over time you see how he’s spiraling out of control. Meanwhile Victor, who was most definitely wrong in the earliest timeline has spent the last decade sharpening his ability, honing himself for one ultimate task. It’s just really interesting because the two characters aren’t really all that different, and yet they are utterly polarizing for me. I loved Victor and actively disliked Eli.

Vicious is the first book in a (currently) two book series. Vengeful is the next title, and though I have it on loan from the library I won’t be reading it right away. I have the Book Club book to read this weekend (it’s a struggle) and I just got Dark Age back so I’m sinking into that. I also have Kameron Hurley’s new short story collection and a couple novellas I want to read.

Basically, I’m swimming in books and running out of time to reach my Goodreads Challenge goal of 70 titles. I might not make it this year y’all.

I’m at a library conference today and tomorrow, so you won’t hear from me again until Monday when I take a look at the week and talk about goals.

Until then Bloggos!

 

BZ

Reading Round Up – July 2019

With a sudden net gain in free-time in July, I read a healthy amount. Most of it nonfiction, so most of these titles will be new to you and sadly the “thoughts” aren’t as effusive as they are when I read more fiction. I didn’t read as many short stories as I would have liked this month, but hey. I’m still good with how much time I spent reading this month.

Title: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1)vm thousand dollar tan line
Author(s): Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thoughts: A quick and satisfying plunge back into the witty and gritty noir world of Veronica Mars. This book reads exactly like an arc of episodes from the original show. There’s plenty to like here, especially if you’ve watched the movie recently. For a more detailed breakdown, check out my full review.
Recommend: Absolutely! Especially if you’ve watched the movie but haven’t started the new season yet. There are some things you might want to know.

Title: The Weeding Handbook: a Shelf-by-Shelf Guidethe weeding handbook
Author: Rebecca Vnuk
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thoughts: A really easy read, full of good tips and knowledge but shared in approachable language. I plan on buying a copy for my personal collection. I’m sure I’ll have occasion to use it in the coming years.
Recommend: If you’re in the library field, absolutely. It breaks down weeding collections shelf-by-shelf, making a humongous task that much easier.

Title: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2)vm kiss and tell
Author(s): Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Thoughts: Another solid contribution to the Veronica Mars canon. Characters, setting, and tone come together to make up for the inconsistent pacing and competing plot lines. Veronica is her usual self, and honestly, it’s starting to get old. Get my full thoughts in my review.
Recommend: Sure. Again, if you’re a fan of the show you’re still going to enjoy this. If you have no idea what the hell Veronica Mars even is, you may want to pass.

Title: Library Management Tips That Worklibrary management tips.jpg
Author: Carol Smallwood
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
Thoughts: This book was a little disappointing. I don’t think it was the book’s fault, but it didn’t actually have much content I could put to use in my new job. It’s a very broad look at library management aimed more specifically at sizable Public Libraries. I’m working in a high school media center, so a lot of the content did not translate. I still read it, because it’s stuff I find interesting and I may have need of the knowledge someday. Also, the language of the book was… dry. Made it a bit difficult to get through.
Recommend: Meh. If you’re really into best practices for library management and operations, go HAM.

Title: Leading from the Library: Help Your School Community Thrive in the Digital Ageleading from the library
Author(s): Shannon McClintock Miller and William Bass
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
Thoughts: I found the writing really prohibitive in this book. It’s chock-a-block full of lingo and different educational standards and I was a bit adrift through the whole thing. I think there’s valuable information in here, but it may require a reread once I’m settled into my role.
Recommend: Meh. Not so much. Again, only if you’re really interested in the details of how libraries work.

Title: Hacking School Libraries: 10 Ways to Incorporate Library Media Centers into Your Learning Community (Hack Learning Series, volume 20)hacking school libraries
Author(s): Kristina A. Holzweiss and Stony Evans
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: Oh man! This book! I LOVED it. Each chapter was really well laid out, with a ton of information, followed by action steps for the reader to take as soon as they’re ready. There were a ton of pictures and diagrams and a huge list of resources in the back. I’m going to buy a copy, for sure.
Recommend: Yes. But again, only if you really want to know more about working in a school library.

Title: “Skerry-Bride”sonya taaffe.jpg
Author: Sonya Taaffe
Format: Trade Paperback
Collection: Transcendent 2: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction
Editor(s): Bogi Takács
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: I loved this story. It’s short but languid, twisting and turning through the language. Grim with longing, poignant and tragic but lined with hope. It reads like a fairy tale, but it’s in second person which is always fascinating to me.
Recommend: Yes.

Title: “The L7 Gene”jeanne thornton.jpg
Author: Jeanne Thornton
Format: Trade Paperback
Collection: Transcendent 2: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction
Editor(s): Bogi Takács
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: Man. I’m still not sure about this story. I… liked it? It’s as far from “Skerry-Bride” as it could be. Straightforward prose, anger in every line, it works for the tale. But, reading it right after something so elegant and artful as “Skerry-Bride” probably did it a disservice. The plot is very intriguing, but the ending is open and a little unsatisfying.
Recommend: Sure. Another short tale with punch, worth the half-hour or so to take it in.

Book Review – Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2) by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

I read this in my fervor to get all caught up for the newest season of Veronica Mars. The revival was the highlight of my summer, and I spent a ton of time watching the original series, the movie, and reading the books to be prepared.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

vm kiss and tell

This book takes place a few months after the end of the first book. Logan is back from deployment, Keith is still recovering from the accident in the movie, and Veronica is approached by the Neptune Grand once again. This time to prove that an assault didn’t actually take place inside the hotel.

When the victim turns out to be Grace Manning, the little sister of a friend from Veronica’s high school days, the case takes an unexpected turn. She can’t remember anything about the night of the attack, before waking up in the hospital beat within an inch of her life.

Now Veronica is torn between her personal feelings for the victim, and the desires of her client.

What I loved:

  • We’re back in Neptune. The gritty world Thomas has made is endlessly fascinating to me and I’m always happy to spend time there. This setting and characters are what make the show.
  • More Logan time! He’s actually around for this one, which is really nice. That being said, V is really good at ignoring him, or avoiding him when he wants to discuss something she finds unpleasant, i.e. her feelings.
  • The writing. Again, clear, concise prose that tells the tale in an intricate and well-thought out manner. Nothing to complain about there.

What I didn’t love:

  • The pacing. This story was very disjointed it. I think because it takes place over too large a period of time. There wasn’t any urgency in its pages. The opening sequence is four-ish months before the book actually begins. There are long gaps in communications and information sort of trickles in to Mars Investigations over time. I think the idea was that the larger focus of the book would be the tension between Veronica and Logan, but that didn’t really work either. The book felt pulled in too many directions without doing any of them much justice.
  • The plot. It was decent enough, but there wasn’t the iconic Veronica Mars twist that I’ve come to expect from all VM content. Usually they set up a character you’re sure did it, and then BOOM, it turns out to have been someone else all along and how could you have missed all that evidence? That doesn’t happen here. We know relatively quickly that Veronica has her sights on the right suspect, but whether she’ll be able to bring him to justice or not is the bigger mystery. I don’t know why, but it didn’t do much for me. Also, as mentioned in the previous bullet, there are a lot of subplots in this book and all of them are vying for top priority. They’re important plot lines, but they suffer from sharing the stage with each other.
  • Veronica. In season three of the show it becomes apparent just how damaged Veronica is. She uses people, frequently. She holds Logan to higher standards than she holds herself. She can be a massive hypocrite. It’s pointed out to her a lot in the course of the show, but she never really learns from that. It continues in this book, and she continues to be pretty uncompromising and shitty to Logan. I’m not cool with that. There needs to be some real consequences and growth on her part and it doesn’t happen in this book.

So, overall, a fun summer read if you’re a fan of the series. Some of the content in this book does get mentioned in the new season on Hulu, so you’ll want to read the books if you want to be fully in the know.

I should have the Reading Round Up before the week is out. So, I’ll see you then!

 

BZ

Book Review – This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by Victoria Schwab

Blogland,

This book was not on my radar until I finished reading the Shades of Magic series. V.E. Schwab pretty much blew my mind with those books, and left me with a desperate need to read more of her work. I looked at a couple of reviews and decided that the Monsters of Verity series would be the right series to start with in my quest to read her entire bibliography.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

this savage song

Verity is a city cut in half. South City, where people band together to fight back the monsters, and North City where the people pay for protection from Callum Harker who brought the monsters to heel. Civil war split the city down what’s called The Seam, where violence overflowed the world. Violent acts lead to the birth of literal monsters. There’s even a little song to help you remember them!

Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw. 
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.

So, a breakdown for you, because I found the monsters fascinating. The Corsai are… scary. They’re made of shadow, teeth and claws, as the song would lead you to believe. They hate UV light and will literally tear you to shreds. The Malchai are like vampires on crack. They have a mouth full of super sharp needlelike teeth and bright red eyes, and though they are weaker in the daylight, they can move around in it. Then there’s the Sunai, the rarest of them all.

August Flynn, one half of the two-perspective narration, is the youngest of the only three Sunai in Verity.  The eldest Sunai believes they are akin to avenging angels, sent to reap the souls of sinners and cleanse the city. But August doesn’t want to be an angel, all he’s ever wanted is to be human. And when word reaches South City that Kate Harker, daughter of North City’s mob boss-esque leader, is back in town, he finally gets his chance.

What could be more human than going to high school?

Kate Harker, the other half of this duo, is a quintessential problem child. She’s burned (in one case, literally) through boarding school after boarding school until her father finally lets her come home. Now is her chance to prove that she isn’t weak, that she deserves to be in Verity, and that she is the rightful heir of Callum Harker.

But she didn’t plan on making friends with the quiet boy with a violin and one hell of a secret. Just like August didn’t intend to actually like Kate, he was just supposed to spy on her.

Hot damn, what a premise!

What I loved:

  • The monsters!!! They are just familiar enough that I’m not confused by them or get them confused with one another, but they’re new too. They are scary in new ways, and I just found them really interesting.
  • August! I love his complexity, his inner-turmoil and how much he struggles with the concept of what he is versus who he is. I also love that, though music is the Sunai method of feeding on souls, he also seems to just legitimately love music. His attachment to his violin goes beyond the fact that he needs it to feed. He cares about it. It’s an extension of himself.
  • Kate. She reminded me a lot of Lila Bard from Shades of Magic, which is never a bad thing. She’s angry, she has a chip on her shoulder and something to prove. But, despite her tough act and her gritty resolve, she isn’t cold. She wants to be, but she isn’t there yet. It’s that humanity in the face of monsters that makes her likable.
  • The music. Music is super important to this series, and I think Schwab’s writing reflects that. She’s a wonderful writer, I learned that with Shades of Magic, but I do feel like she upped her prose game with this book. There were a couple lines that made me pause and reread them, and there’s a lyrical quality that echoes throughout most of the book. I came away from each reading session feeling impressed.

What I didn’t love:

  • The beginning was a little slow. I get that there’s world building to be done and character development has to happen somewhere. But I wished we’d got to August and Kate in school sooner. I don’t really know if that’s a reasonable complaint, but there it is.
  • It felt a little… YA-y. Okay, this complaint ISN’T reasonable. It is a YA book after all. But, especially in those first 100 pages, everything felt too familiar. Almost cliché. I haven’t read much YA in the last five years or so, so maybe I’m just out of touch with the market, but it felt a little trope-y. Then the book shifts once Kate and August meet, and from there things really find their stride and I became immersed in the story.

So there you have it. A little slow to start, but ultimately a really great book with high stakes, amazing characters, and a super imaginative world and premise. Once I got through the first 100 pages, I was hooked. Thanks to Schwab’s previously fantastic works, I trusted her to give me an experience I would enjoy. I’m glad I did.

I’m on to the sequel already and am enjoying it so far. I’ll be back soon to talk about the state of the blog in the first half of the year.

Until then, Bloggarts.

 

BZ