The Invasion of the Tearling

I’ve committed the ultimate blogging sin. The one, huge habit that I have had to stop doing since starting I Lay Reading.

My number one rule:  DO NOT FINISH THE BOOK RIGHT BEFORE BED.

Crap.

Why is this so terrible? I used to do this all the time–the finality of it meant I could fall instantly to sleep. Ahhh but therein lies the problem. When I finish a book, I blog it immediately (or, if I cannot get to a computer, then I at least write down a pretty detailed outline), so that my thoughts and feelings are fresh and vibrant.

Going to sleep between finishing and blogging basically smothers those feels with my pillow. My brain is sluggish and sleepy. No matter how much I loved the book (or hated it), I just never feel as good about what I have to say.

In fact…all of this is just procrastination because I didn’t know how to get started…

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We recently read The Queen of the Tearling for the #adultbooklr Book Club in July, and I was so looking forward to the second book. It seemed like everyone jumped right into The Invasion of the Tearling and loved it even more than the QOTT, so I was dying for the library to catch up to me on the hold queue.

My coreaders were not wrong. I really enjoyed QOTT, and IOTT just builds upon the series. Book 1’s setting is a little mysterious–is it medieval fantasy? Is it the future? What is The Crossing? We know there was America, and they are in something called New Europe, but where are they really?

In Book 2, Kelsea’s character and magic really develop, as does the whole background of the dystopian set up. Through Kelsea’s fugues, we get to see what happened pre-Crossing–who the Tear characters are, what happened to America, what the Crossing was. There’s also quite a lot of character development among the other main and secondary characters as well.

I really liked QOTT for what it was, but I know some people thought the writing not complex enough, or that it spends too much time building up to nothing. IOTT builds on everything that QOTT lays out. Don’t give up on Kelsea just yet, I encourage you to read the second book. It’s worth it.

 

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brown girl dreaming

#blacklivesmatter is everywhere these days, and seemingly everyone has an opinion about it. And the fight is ugly. If you had asked me even 2 years ago if I thought we would be living in the 60s again, I would have laughed and thought you meant fashion or the MidCentury Mod furniture design craze.

But nothing about this is funny. People aren’t just getting emotionally wounded, people are dying. And they aren’t just being killed by Joe Blow off the street, but by those sworn to protect us. No matter what side of the fence you’re on…that’s a very scary thing to think about.

As a white woman in America, I mostly keep my mouth shut. While I support #blacklivesmatter, this isn’t my time to speak. My voice is not the one that needs to be heard.

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Adult Booklr chose Jacqueline Woodson’s brown girl dreaming for our August Book Club and it could not be more poignant. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, since it is a story written in poems instead of prose, but it ended up being incredibly beautiful. It is also a perfect book to release right now. It not only speaks to Black Culture, but it did a lot of good to me as well.

The rest of my review is written, obviously, from a white woman’s perspective. I have not been in the fight. I cannot understand what you are going through. I would love to hear your feelings on this beautiful book, and I hope you will share them with me.

brown girl dreaming is essentially Woodson’s memoir, written from the viewpoint of her as a child in the 1960s. Through her vivid poetry, she talks about growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York, and the differences between prejudices and struggles in each location. She also lays out the foundation of learning to write, her family life, and just growing up as a whole.

Even though the words were spoken with a child’s voice, the wisdom in them was so pronounced. This was a child who saw the world through her pencil–every moment was a word waiting to be written. Her composition notebook was her tool to sort, file, organize the world around her and try to make sense of everything that was happening. For the reader, that notebook, in turn, helps us understand what is happening in our similar world today.

I couldn’t relate to everything she wrote. I grew up in a privileged home, with both parents, in the same house until the end of high school. I very much understand what people mean when they talk about White Privilege now. I can’t say I have never struggled…they are just different struggles.

There were, however, some poems that made my heart expand until I thought it was going to explode. Some made me want to weep. The ones about reading and writing, especially–not knowing how to use those gifts as a kid but just knowing they were there and she had to use them somehow.

Then there were the poems that really spoke to me on a human level. Those shook me. They are the reason I’m writing the review this way–because I really wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it. One of the last poems in the book was this one, called “how to listen #10”:

 

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I think that is the most important thing as a white person in America right now, because we are privileged, whether we can see it or not. It’s a hard thing to admit sometimes–pride is a hard thing to let go of. But we just have to shut up and listen.

 

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The Sisters of Versailles

FINALLY! I broke my streak with war and nightmares. I really was not sure it was every going to end!

I have read dozens of books about Henry VIII and his scandalous court. Seemingly everyone has heard of his lustful boredom and endless pursuits. However, two centuries later, another king followed in his very sexed up shoes.

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King Louis XV of France–Louis the Beloved–ruled from 1710 to 1774. He was married to a Polish princess, but after seven years of marriage, he was becoming bored, and his advisers decided they needed to find a replacement close and quiet. According to Sally Christie in her new book The Sisters of Versailles, they found the perfect solution in Louise Nesle, serving as one of the Queen’s consorts.

However, because this is a scandal story, of course it doesn’t just stop there. There were five Nesle sisters. I’ll leave you to read what happens.

Christie’s historical fiction drips with so much sticky sweet scandal that you would think you were biting into a caramel apple (just keep it away from Diane, or she might snatch it from you). Every chapter holds a new drama–either a fight that is “not very sororal” according to the Nesle governess Zeilie, or littered with sexual innuendo so dirty even I couldn’t have come up with some of it. And that’s saying something. (I did make sure to take note of them…don’t you worry! clickFILEclick)

The Goodreads blurb states that these women have never before been written about in English, which devastates me, because I very much want to read more! Not that Sally Christie hasn’t done a fantastic job, because she has…but this is one of those sections of history I could get addicted to. It’s like a historical soap opera or reality show. Keeping Up with the Nesles. Now THAT is something I would watch! Oh man. Who do I talk to at HBO to do this?

Seriously though guys, if you like Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, or Hilary Mantel…really any of the great scandal writers from Henry VIII’s court…you’re going to love this one. Same idea, different king. History really does repeat itself, doesn’t it?

 

Netgalley provided this ARC for an unbiased reviewReleases on September 1.

 

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The Middle of Somewhere

Do you ever begin a book thinking it is one thing, and it ends up being even BETTER THAN THAT? I mean, this is why we read, right? We may come across some duds, but it’s the really wonderful stories that keep us going.

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On Monday, I talked about how I go into most books blind–I don’t really want to know much about them before I begin. And that’s true, but when I got the request for Sonja Yoerg’s second book The Middle of Somewhere, and saw the cover, I knew immediately that I was interested. I have a thing for backpacking stories–fiction or nonfiction. I think it is the idea that everyone has a journey to go through in life, something they are either walking away from or walking toward, and the hike is a very real illustration of that. So I was very much looking forward to reading this one.

And The Middle of Somewhere started out pretty much like most backpacking novels do. Liz is turning 30, and she is struggling with commitment with her boyfriend Dante. She’s been planning this walk on the John Muir Trail for years, and is finally determined to do it–but instead of the lone ranger trip she had planned, Dante has decided at the last minute to join her. Not only does that delay her trip into a not very prime part of the season, but she also has some skeletons in her closet that she knows will come out during their three week hike…and she is not sure she is ready for that.

Once they get out on the trail, however, they meet an unexpected danger–more than rocks and bears and storms. Yoerg has written more than just a backpacker novel–she has given us a mountain thriller. Hiking in the mountains would be hard and scary enough, but Yoerg puts her characters in a situation where there is a crescendo threat to their lives. It gets creepier and creepier until it escalates to violence.

This was such a page turner that I finished it in one afternoon. I was excited to just read it as a backpacking story, but add the thriller component and Yoerg has a bestseller on her hands…at least in my opinion. In an environment where Eat, Pray, Love and Wild are so popular, I think her book will do really well, and she has added a special edge to separate herself from the pack. Big time yes from me!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases September 1.

 

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Jade Dragon Mountain

When I looked at my TBR list the other day and realized that I am into my September ARCs already, I sat back onto my heels a bit. How are we already this late into the year? This weekend marked our one year anniversary in Dallas. We have been here for a WHOLE YEAR! What a ride it has been.

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I’ve had Jade Dragon Mountain in my queue for a long time…for some reason I received it way in advance. It felt strange to finally pick it up. This is Elsa Hart’s debut novel, and she has done a pretty decent job with it.

The story takes place in 1708 during the Qing Dynasty. Kangxi Emperor is passionate about astronomy and has calculated that an eclipse will be visible in Dayan. A festival is being prepared for his arrival. Li Du, an exile and imperial librarian, must visit his magistrate cousin on his way to Tibet, and arrives during the preparations. While he is there, a Jesuit priest is murdered, and Li Du sets out to find the killer before the emperor arrives.

Jade Dragon Mountain is part historical fiction, part Sherlockian mystery. I was fascinated by the Chinese lore and history–although most of the actual characters I think were made up, excepting the Emperor himself, the facts about the Jesuits and Kangxi’s fascination with astrology, all of that were real. A festival like this could have really happened. We are discussing this in my Coursera class–the art of historical fiction requires the author to stretch the truth just enough to convince the reader to believe the lie.

The mystery portion of the story was a bit of fun as well. It loops around and around, providing the bits of science and historical context, all while giving us a Sherlock/Watson kind of banter between Li Du and Hamza. Hamza is even a storyteller…which, hello, today he would TOTALLY be a blogger! *wink* Ok, maybe that part is a bit of a stretch, but I couldn’t help but make the jump. Fellow Johnlockers will understand.

Jade Dragon Mountain comes out September 1 and is bound to interest any fellow historical fiction lovers. It’s a great debut for Elsa Hart and I’ll be interesting to see what she comes up with next!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases September 1.

 

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Reading as an Experience

When I approach a new book, I often know very little about it.

Many have been on my TBR for years–recommendations from acquaintances long forgotten–“Oh, you should read this!” Any one who finds out how much I read has a book for me, so it goes on The List. Bestsellers often end up on there, popular books making the rounds on Tumblr, and of course, the Boxall 1001. The List is over 3,000 titles long.

I will usually read a brief description of an ARC before I request it, but even then, it’s a month or two before I actually read it, since I prefer to wait until just before release to do the review. I have a general idea of most of the popular classic novels, but just an outline or topic. Only in the rare occasion that I really love the author and have been anxiously waiting a release, or it’s a book with a huge publicity push will I actually have a strong knowledge base before beginning.

Why do I do so little research about the books I read? Two simple reasons.

  1. I read almost a book a day. At that volume, it would be impossible for me to read pre-reviews on every single book. Nope, can’t do it.
  2. The biggest reason, though, is that I’d much rather go into a book blind. That way, every twist and turn is new, every character I meet is unexpected. It’s the same reason I often don’t watch every movie trailer anymore. I want to experience the book fresh. Sometimes with ARCs I hardly even pay attention to who the author is. I take notes with my reactions, mark down quotes, etc. With difficult books, I will often Wiki it, to make sure I am understanding what is happening–though I don’t usually do that until later in the story, or afterwards, unless I am really confused.

Reading for me is an immersive experience, and I try to get as much out of it as possible. It is enjoyable, but it is no longer just a hobby. I learn a great deal from the books I read, and so I have expanded the breadth of what I am taking in.

I’ve discussed this multiple times here before–how much I read, what I read, how I do it. I won’t get into that now. But learning is important to me, and I get really excited about it.

 

However, I’ve had a few conversations about reading as an experience this week. Not everyone reads the same way I do. And you know what, THAT IS OK!

I had one conversation where we geeked out about the toxic relationships in Wuthering Heights and analyzed the perception of that novel as a romance vs what the book really is. We talked about how we think all classics are well-written because the language is so much different than modern day English, but in reality, the authors fought with each other about their writing style as much as we do now.

But you know what also makes me really excited? Talking to someone who struggled with reading for years, hating it because they had trouble with dyslexia or any other reading disorder. But then someone gave them Harry Potter (or Twilight or Percy Jackson or INSERT BOOK HERE) and it opened up words for them. And it may take them a month to read one book but now they can do it and we can geek out together about our favorite stories. And it has nothing to do with the great masters of writing or the state of the world. It’s just words on a page that fit together to make a story that we all can share.

 

My point is this–read what you like. For years I read Nora Roberts and Rachel Gibson smut. I read every JD Robb In Death book in order for like 4-5 years. Maybe longer. That’s no longer my thing, but if it’s yours GREAT! If you’re an adult who loves YA, thumbs up. If you’re a kid who likes adult fiction, YES! Comics, newspapers, magazines, shampoo bottles? Done.

I’m kind of joking about the shampoo bottles, but I can’t say I haven’t done it when there’s nothing else in the bathroom.

Paperbacks, hard covers, ereaders, audiobooks. All valid sources. Guys, let’s stop arguing about what people like to read, and get excited about everyone who loves it as much as we do. Bookworms have gotten made fun of since the beginning of time. Let’s not beat up on each other too.

I firmly believe that reading is a process. It starts with that first book we fall in love with, and we just keep going. Every next book drags us a little further down the line. Maybe one day we step out from our normal genre into something new. Maybe next time it’s a bit more advanced than what we are used to. That process can be fast, or it may take a long time and be really gradual–and it may change hardly at all. My grandfather read Westerns his entire life…until the last year or two when he started reading Amish Christian fiction. So don’t let me or anyone else pressure you to step outside your comfort zone, but I do encourage it, when you’re ready.

There is a whole world of books out there! And you know I have a full List of recommendations for you!

Happy reading everyone!

Bradstreet Gate

Graduating from Harvard often means that you will be starting a life of wealth and high pillars. The 1%. For the last four years, you’ve worked hard, studied hard…and of course, probably partied a little hard too. Graduation should be a celebration, you’ve done it! Life can begin.

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However, for Georgia, Charlie, and Alice…things didn’t quite go that way. Bradstreet Gate is the story of how their graduation year at Harvard went very wrong, when a classmate was murdered, allegedly by a professor they trusted.

My first thought when I started reading this book was, “Ok…this sounds an awful lot like How to Get Away with Murder.” And since I love that show…I was ok with it. Really though, it’s not at all the same plot, except the creepy teacher/student love affair thing.

Robin Kirman is going to be an author to watch–she writes characters brilliantly, on the same level as Gillian Flynn. There are two people here that I want to open their brains and just rummage around, to see what is going on. One is a textbook novel sociopath. That person is perfection–one that you love to hate immediately. The other will have you guessing the entire book. I am not going to tell you which is which because the kicker of these two characters is…which one actually committed the murder?

Bradstreet Gate‘s subtle creep factor just nails it the whole time. The story itself is wonderful, and then interwoven is this nagging feeling that you are being watched and studied. I kept thinking, “Why is this called a thriller? It’s really not that thrilling?” And then a chill would run down my spine out of nowhere. Oohhh, there it is.

Great debut, Robin Kirman. I’ll be looking for more from you!

 

Blogging for Books sent this to me for an unbiased review.

 

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