Neil Gaiman Collage 3

The Amazing Neil Gaiman

May and June turned into a Neil Gaiman feast for my bookish appetite. I listened to five audio books (four of which were read by the author himself) and read one on my Kindle. Here’s what I thought:

  • Neverwhere – My first Neil Gaiman book. I listened to the audio version read by the author himself, and I was swept away to this world below London called Neverwhere. The main character is a Londoner by the name of Richard who finds himself sucked into an adventure in Neverwhere with the mysterious Lady Door, the wily Marquis de Carabas and an intense female bodyguard named Hunter. They seek the angel named Islington and encounter the Great Beast of London while trying to avoid the assassins on their tail. The story was creative, intriguing, an epic journey with surprises and interesting characters. The author’s voice was AMAZING. He’s a genuine storyteller. This whetted my appetite for more.
  • Stardust – Again, I listened to the audiobook because I was quite immediately addicted to Neil Gaiman’s voice after Neverwhere. Stardust was such a fun story. A young man named Tristan who lives in an English country village wishes to impress the village beauty and promises her he’ll bring back a falling star they saw in the night sky. His quest leads him to an enchanted land with witches, magic and a beautiful young star. And once the story ended, I watched the movie (starring Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeifer, and Robert De Niro), which was also creative and fun and remained pretty close to the book version.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Different from the first two but still good. Again, read by the author himself. I love how his mind works, the creatures he invents, the characters he introduces. And his voice. Did I mention how much I love his voice? This story was about a boy with magical neighbors and an awful creature who in unleashed. I really can’t say more without giving away the story. It was a good read!
  • Fragile Things – This is a collection of short stories, including a pretty long one featuring the main character from his novel American Gods. I don’t usually buy short stories on audiobook but I was so enchanted by Neil Gaiman’s voice that I couldn’t stop buying things he narrated. I liked most of the stories but the one that stuck with me the most was The Monarch in the Glen, the story about Shadow from American Dogs. But there were several gems in this group.
  • Smoke and Mirrors – Again, another short story collection because I love Neil Gaiman’s voice. So many entertaining stories, an old lady who purchases the Holy Grail at a thrift store, a boy who has to negotiate with a troll under the bridge and a man who hires assassins from the yellow pages. I love the way Mr. Gaiman’s mind works.
  • Good Omens – This was another audiobook but unlike the others, it was NOT narrated by Nail Gaiman. And that was a darn shame. I enjoyed this novel, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett. It was funny and so incredibly creative, which I’ve come to expect from all of Neil Gaiman’s writing. Basically, the end of the world is approaching, and an angel and demon need to work together to find the child antichrist who has no idea who he is to thwart the battle between good and evil that will wipe out the world’s population. Sounds intense but it’s really just pretty hilarious. Great characters, funny situations. The only downside was no author narration.
  • American Gods – This is the one title that I bought for my Kindle. It’s a long book and a heck of a story.  A man gets out of prison, excited to finally return home to his wife, who dies in the final days before his release. He ends up accepting a job with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who approached him and seems to know a lot about him. Their journey and adventures make up the novel with a dose of mystery, horror, humor and sex. I heard it has been made into a TV series that I haven’t watched yet. I liked the book a lot, but I think Neverwhere was my favorite.

I can’t believe I never read this amazing author before now. If you like fantasy, he’s a master. He knows how to spin a tale and tell a story. I have plenty more to read by him too. Did you know he writes children’s stories too? Coraline! AND I JUST FOUND OUT HE’S GOING TO BE TALKING IN DALLAS THIS MONTH! Excuse me while I run out to go buy tickets!

Read More

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Russian Fairy Tale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden was a beautifully woven, medieval Russian fairy tale full of lush descriptions and dark myths.

I ended up choosing to listen to the audiobook instead of reading it, and I’m so glad I did because the narrator, Kathleen Gati, brought this story to life with her Russian accent. Her authentic accent only emerged when she spoke for the characters, otherwise, her tone was smooth and lovely. But the magic and lilting flow of all those Russian names and words were WONDERFUL and made the fairy tale come alive!

Vasilisa Petrovna is a young girl resisting the traditional female roles of the time and learning and coming to terms with the magic around her all while struggling against a loving father determined to do “what’s best for her” and a stepmother who hates her. Her beloved Dunya looks after her as do her many siblings. There’s also Morozko, the frost king, who takes a special interest …

The descriptions are wonderful, such as the traditional homes with their large ovens and the bearded domovoi who live inside them. I wanted to join Vasilisa in the stables, where she spent so much time learning from horses and the Vasilla who lived there. At times the story is told from other perspectives, such as when we travel with the frost demon and learn his nature … not to mention the unsettling encounters with the one-eyed man who is supposed to be hibernating. The reader also has the perspective of the misguided priest, Konstantin Nikonovich, who comes to the village to push Christianity and is blind to other beliefs despite an encounter with the seductive rusalka. The coldness of northern Russian and harsh winter is almost another character in this cast, a living, breathing thing. The nightingale isn’t introduced until much later in the story, but it was one of my favorite non-human characters.

At times, this story reminded me of Cinderella or other traditional fairy tales, but there was enough originality that I didn’t know what was going to happen next or didn’t care if I did know because it was so richly and pleasantly told. The tale was definitely more fable-like in the beginning and then more horror-filled and serious toward the end.

If you like strong female characters, rich foreign settings and a little romance and magic mixed in, The Bear and the Nightingale is a story you’ll devour. I did.

Read More

The Handmaid's Tale Collage

The Handmaid’s Tale: Are You Awake?

When I heard that Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was going to be made into a TV series for Hulu, I decided to reread it, having initially read it years and years ago. So long ago, in fact, that I really didn’t remember it. I decided to purchase the audiobook with Claire Danes narrating, and she did an excellent job.

Originally published in 1985, the novel is set in a dystopian future where a totalitarian government reigns, where women have no power and no freedom. People are sterile from pollution and STDs. The women who are still fertile are forced to become handmaids. They wear red, cover their heads and are assigned to households where their primary and only duty is to become pregnant and have a baby. The handmaids are named after the man of the house. The protagonist narrating this story is named Offred (of-Fred) because that’s who she belongs to, a commander named Fred. Wives wear blue, Marthas (women servants) wear green. Laws are rigid, trust is fleeting and it’s a lonely world for a handmaid.

Handmaids wear red, cover their heads and are assigned to households where their primary duty is to become pregnant and have a baby. The handmaids are named after the man of the house. The protagonist narrating this story is named Offred (of-Fred) because that’s who she belongs to, a commander named Fred. Wives wear blue, Marthas (women servants) wear green. Laws are rigid, class distinction loom large and trust is fleeting. It’s a lonely world for a handmaid.

Offred can remember the time before when she had a job and a child, her own bank account and a car. Now she belongs to the commander with no choices her own, from what she can wear to what she can say or who she can even talk to. It’s terrifying. And she mentions several times how quickly this change occurred, how quickly everyone adjusted to a new way of thinking.

Women aren’t even allowed to make decisions about their own body or allowed TO READ. This is huge. When people start filtering what you can read, telling you what’s true or not true, not letting you decide for yourself, that’s a red flag. I can’t help but compare it to our current political climate, where we have a president telling us alternate facts and calling news fake if it doesn’t agree with him. That’s terrifying too.

This book is more than a piece of well-written fiction. It serves as a warning. We can’t remain ignorant or asleep or complacent. We need to stay awake.

Have you read the book? Do you plan to watch the TV series?

Read More

The Blue

The Blue

I haven’t posted a book review in a while, but I just finished reading a book tonight I really wanted to share. I stumbled upon The Blue in a search through new and notable books for the month on Amazon in the Kindle mysteries section.

Two twenty-something best friends, Lana and Kitty, escape their life in London for freedom and adventure and end up in the Philippines where they are invited to join a group of wanderers living on a 50-foot yacht named The Blue. Crewed by a group of young people, who have all left their old lives for various reasons, Lana and Kitty find what they were looking for … happiness, relaxation and adventure in paradise … but also discover dark secrets.

The adventurer in me was intrigued. Leaving home and ending up on a yacht, sailing the ocean, swimming in lagoons and snorkeling in coral reefs. What a great setting for a mystery and secrets.

This book was such a good read. I think the best spot to read this book would be on a cruise or on the beach of a tropical island. If neither of those are available, then anyplace will do, but be prepared for that desire-to-travel itch to flare up. I know mine did.

 

I wasn’t given a free copy of this book to review and all opinions expressed were my own and of my own volition. 

Read More

The Book of Speculation

The Book of Speculation

An ancient book, a house crumbling into the ocean, mermaids, tarot cards, family legacies and the traveling circus. These all set the stage for Erika Swyler’s debut novel, The Book of Speculation.

Simon Watson, a young librarian whose mother was a mermaid in a traveling circus before she drowned, receives a mysterious, old, water-damaged book in the mail. Through this, he slowly uncovers a family legacy of women who drown, always on a specific date … and as that date nears, Simon’s sister, who ran away with a circus, returns and begins to act peculiarly. Has their family been cursed? Are the women mermaids? Do the tarot cards foretell his sister’s fate?

I enjoyed reading The Book of Speculation. It was mysterious, magical and a little dark. I had to put it down at times to get away from the story, but would find myself thinking about the story line before long and pick it back up again.

 

 

Read More

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It was published in 2009, but despite its popularity and best-selling status, I didn’t actually read it until this year. My younger sister said it was amazing and a huge impetus behind her traveling to Ethiopia a few years back. My mother loved it, even my grandmother read it and enjoyed it. What the heck took me so long?!

Cutting for Stone is told from Marion Stone’s point of view. He and his twin brother were born to a beautiful nun from India and a British surgeon who worked together in Missing hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The twin boys are orphaned by their mother’s death and their dad’s disappearance, but raised by the staff at Missing Hospital. This group, this family, brought together by medicine and caring, is a group of characters, who you will grow to care for and root for, despite all the odds. You follow the boys through their childhood and on into adulthood, where their decisions carry them through a touching and heartfelt story.

There is so much I liked about this book. The prose was beautiful, the characters fully-fleshed out and the amount of medical knowledge woven into the story was impressive and fascinating. The complicated and uncomplicated relationships, the Ethiopian politics and revolution, the struggles of people without good healthcare, etc. I felt like I paid a visit and grew to know the place.

After reading this book, which I really, really enjoyed, I now want to go eat a delicious plate of doro tibs and injera at  my local Ethiopian restaurant, and I’d love to actually visit this part of Africa. Abraham Verghese wrote an intelligent and feeling book with Cutting for Stone, and I recommend that everyone reads it. As a writer, I hope one day I could produce something of this caliber.

Have you read Cutting for Stone? What did you think of it?

 

cover photo from Abraham Verghese’s Facebook Page. 

Read More

books on a nightstand

On My Nightstand

In the last week, I’ve been super busy with work and life, and although I managed to read three books, I still have a huge stack of books on my virtual nightstand at the moment. ( I say virtual because while I do have physical books on my nightstand, I also read a lot of books on my Kindle.

What I’ve Read

This week I read The Third Gate by Lincoln Child, Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick and Deep Storm by Lincoln Child. The two Lincoln Child books were fast-paced thrillers, and Amanda Quick’s novel was a historical mystery/romance.

After I read The Forgotten Room over a week ago, I wanted to read more by Lincoln Child. I love the settings for his novels … a Rhode Island mansion in one, an Egyptian burial site in another and the best, an underwater military facility. You learn from his novels, while simultaneously trying to figure out who did it, what’s really going on and uncovering plot twists. I don’t know how factually accurate they are, but it seems to me like the author has done a lot of research to pull off the level of detail in these novels.

The Third Gate is a search for the long-lost pharaoh who united Egypt, Narmer’s burial chamber and possible crowns.

 

 

Deep Storm is focused on a mysterious illness that’s threatening people in a secret underwater facility in the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

Garden of Lies is about set in Victorian England where there’s murder and romance.

 

Currently on My Nightstand

And these are all the books I’ve started and need to finish, or need to start ASAP for various reasons:

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman – I’m reading this for my work book club. It’s a challenge to get through because the entire book is written in a bizarre vernacular.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – I’ve had this one from the library for so long that they sent me an invoice. It’s good, I’m more than halfway through, but I keep forgetting to finish it!

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker – Another one from the library that I keep meaning to read. It looks really good. I haven’t started reading it yet but I read a sample on my Kindle months ago and the reviews were great.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – I think I downloaded this one for free from Amazon. It keeps making the best-books-of-the-month lists, but I’m well into it and having a hard time continuing. It’s just not holding my interest. But I’m determined to finish.

Crow Fair: Stories by Thomas McGuane – I’ve never read this author before, but I decided to try his new short-story collection for my family book club. This is our first book to read as a family (and by family, I mean my mom and my other adult siblings). I haven’t started reading it yet.

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley – This book has two separate story lines that must intersect at some point, but right now I’m mired down in the less interesting one … MUST finish.

What’s on YOUR nightstand?

Read More

The Forgotten Room

The Forgotten Room

A massive mansion housing a private think-tank, a violent death and a hidden room with no door and a mysterious purpose … all the necessary ingredients for a fast-pace, intriguing thriller. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child was a quick, compelling read. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I’m probably going to read another book by this author.

The main character in The Forgotten Room, Jeremy Logan, is “an investigator who specializes in analyzing phenomena that have no obvious explanation.” He is hired by a prestigious think-tank located in a magnificent old mansion on the coast in Newport, Rhode Island to investigate the shocking and suspicious death of one of their fellows. Logan’s investigation leads him to a closed-off wing of the mansion, where a room with no doors is discovered, with mysterious equipment and unexplained purpose. Strange behavior in other residents continues and danger looms …

 

I can’t resist a mystery involving secret rooms in mansions, and The Forgotten Room didn’t disappoint. What novels are you drawn to? Are you irresistibly drawn to certain story lines?

Read More

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew and The Secret of the Old Clock

I wanted to be Nancy Drew when I was younger.

She had it all; good looks, excellent sleuthing capabilities, two fun best friends and a cute boyfriend, and she SOLVED MYSTERIES and had ADVENTURES! I desperately wanted her strawberry-blonde hair and blue eyes and was envious of her independence.  I gobbled up the entire 50-something book series over a short time period and have had a fond place in my heart for her ever since.

Recently, I decided to pick up one of the Nancy Drew books from my local Half-Price Bookstore, to see what they were like now, reading them as an adult. I started with the first one, The Secret of the Old Clock.

 

 

I read it in a few hours. It was a quick, easy read … and fun! I can tell that it was written way before I was born. Nancy wears a lot of matching sweater sets and doesn’t have a cell phone. But, she’s curious, has a great relationship with her dad, attorney Carson Drew, has a good heart that has her helping others,  and she can change a flat tire on her blue convertible and fix a broken boat motor. What more could you ask for in a teenage girl detective?

What I didn’t know as a child is that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym for a number of ghost writers, who received a one-time payment of $125 in the early years. The series began in 1930, then experience a major re-write in the late 1950s (her age changed from 16 to 18, she became a little more feminine, etc). There were newer, more hip versions of the Nancy Drew character in the ’80s and ’90s also. But the concept has remained the same. She’s solvin’ crimes, yo.

Do young girls still read Nancy Drew books? I don’t know, but I may read a few more … for old time’s sake.

 

Read More

Jerry Todd Books

Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy

In honor of my dad, who would have been 85 today if he had not passed away a few months ago, I want to share a special book series with you, the Jerry Todd book series written by Leo Edwards. It’s a series my dad grew up reading in the 1930s and 1940s, and I can remember him reading them to me when I was young. I don’t remember much, but I do remember feeling enchanted by this small-town, old America feeling story where a young boy and his friends have adventures.

Leo Edwards was actually a pen name for Edward Edson Lee, who grew up in Illinois. He started writing serials in American Boy Magazine and eventually published five different series of books. Fun fact: Ronald Reagan wrote in his own biography that he himself had a similar boyhood as Jerry Todd.

My mom actually found and purchased the whole series for my dad as an adult. (Hence, my dad reading them to me.) I remember the red cloth covers. I’d love to find some of these and collect them now.

 

You can’t beat these creative and intriguing titles. There were sixteen books in this series, published between 1924 and 1940. In each book there was a section called “Our Chatter Box,” where poems and letters from the author’s fan club were published as well as the author’s friendly responses. And, if your letter or poem was printed in that section, you would receive a free copy of the book.

  1. Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy – 1923
  2. Jerry Todd and the Rose-Colored Cat – 1924
  3. Jerry Todd and the Oak Island Treasure – 1925
  4. Jerry Todd and the Waltzing Hen – 1924
  5. Jerry Todd and the Talking Frog – 1925
  6. Jerry Todd and the Purring Egg – 1925
  7. Jerry Todd in the Whispering Cave – 1927
  8. Jerry Todd, Pirate – 1928
  9. Jerry Todd and the Bob-Tailed Elephant – 1929
  10. Jerry Todd, Editor-In-Grief – 1930
  11. Jerry Todd, Caveman – 1932
  12. Jerry Todd and the Flying Flapdoodle – 1934
  13. Jerry Todd and the Buffalo Bill Bathtub – 1936
  14. Jerry Todd’s Up-The-Ladder Club – 1937
  15. Jerry Todd’s Poodle Parlor – 1938
  16. Jerry Todd’s Cuckoo Camp – 1940

Now tell me, have you ever heard of this book series? Do you know what your dad read as a child?

Read More