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.

 

Buy it Here:

Movie Adaptation: Dark Places

I haven’t done a movie adaptation in awhile, but I got to see a free pre-screening of Dark Places Tuesday night, so I felt I owed a review.

First things first, before I even get into the meat of it, I want to give a warning to those who need it, because there wasn’t one on-screen:  IF STROBE LIGHTS BOTHER YOU, DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. Or at least proceed with caution. There is a huge scene about a quarter of the way through, when she goes to The Kill Club with EXTREME strobing, so just be aware of it. Also, a lot of the flashbacks aren’t strobe, but they are a really funky black, white, sepiaish coloring. Almost negative filmy type effect, but whatever it was, it really hurt my eyes. I don’t have seizures but we were pretty close to the screen and I definitely left with a headache.

Ok, on with the review:

From what I understand, Dark Places was actually a French production, made before Gone Girl. But, even with the superb casting, they weren’t completely sure how it would go over in the US, so they held off on the release. Then, when Gone Girl became a smash hit, of COURSE they had to bring it out. I’ve seen nary a trailer for it though, which is sad because while I don’t think it would make near as big of a smash, I think a lot of people would go see this if they knew about it.

It’s a much different film than Gone Girl is, however. Instead of being so high impact drama, it’s more slow and steady. You get the present day plot mixed with the flash backs. Sort of a look this way while I show you something else, make you think one thing and actually the reality is something else entirely. Gillian Flynn is fantastic at this. Her sociopaths never look like sociopaths until the very end.

As I said before, the casting here, at least for the main characters, is superb. Charlize Theron was excellent…but, is she ever bad in anything? How can she be so goddamn gorgeous in greasy short hair and the same dirty shirt all movie long? Oh. Right. She’s Charlize freaking Theron. I did alter my vision of what adult Libby’s life looked like in my previous book review. I think the movie nailed what Flynn was going for–and not at all what I had imagined. It fits much more with who she would have been.

Christina Hendricks as Patty Day? I mean…yes. My friend, as we were walking out, made a comment similar to what I said about Theron. “I didn’t know they could make Christina Hendricks look so good dirty!”

But, in the end, it’s not about the beauty, it’s about the acting, and these two both got their characters down perfectly. We’ve seen them in extremely sophisticated roles, but here they are both in very raw, emotional ones, and the performances were really powerful.

At first, I wasn’t sure Nicholas Hoult was the right choice for Lyle. He’s very young next to Theron, and I balked a bit because in the book, she’s only 30. But, they expanded the time gap a bit in the movie, so it made more sense. Also, for once in, well, EVER, the writers did not make this movie about romance at all. There were plenty of openings for them to do that, and yet they refrained, and I was grateful they didn’t change that part of the story, especially in one where there was so much PTSD, pain, and recovery happening.

This movie is going to be released tomorrow, August 7. I’m unsure how broad of a release it will get, but if it’s showing near you, go see it, especially if you like brain twisters and thrillers. This one isn’t so much on the racing plot thriller type, but more of a plot twist type. Definitely worth a showing.

 

Disclaimer:  My friend got free tickets to see this screening at Angelika Theater Dallas from her work and was kind enough to share one with me.

Swerve

Last night was a blast, ya’ll! One of the area neighborhoods, Deep Ellum,  has a monthly Wine Walk that they put on in the summer. A bunch of shops and galleries serve in the back, and then everyone just kind of mingles around for a few hours. What a great way to get in our Fitbit steps, and check out some local shopping! We’ll definitely do it again.

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I ended up surprising myself–because we went out last night, I didn’t think I was going to have a chance to read and finish a new book in time for today’s blog. But hey, you know me. I can’t leave you guys hanging!

Actually, I just picked one that I hoped would be a quickie. It also turned out to be REALLY good.

With Hannibal starting back up, I am craving thrillers. That show just charges me up for that surge of electricity I get from reading terrifying, twisted stories. (Does it say something about me that I like reading about psychopaths and broken people? Maybe…but I am a broken person too.)

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Vicki Pettersson’s new book Swerve releases just after the July 4th holiday and it fills that thriller need perfectly. Kristine is on a trip with her fiance to visit his mother, when the couple is abducted by a psychopath. The mystery trucker leaders her down a terrifying road of destruction in order to save her fiance.

This book reminded me a lot of Red Dragon–even though we never got a look out from the perspective of the killer, we do hear a lot about what is going on in his head and what lead him to this point. The precision and escalation to the moments in the book, the “hot” point of the serial killer instinct, it’s all very similar to how Dolerhyde escalates.

I highly recommend this for you thriller freaks out there like me. Pick this up on July 7 and be prepared for your summer to sizzle!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review.

The True American

A few weeks ago, deep into my reading slump and looking for brain food, I flipped through TED.com and found a talk given by Anand Giridharadas titled “A Tale of Two Americas, and the Mini-Mart Where They Collided.” He told the compelling story of a young man from Bangladesh working at a Dallas gas station, and the white man changed his life forever with a rifle full of birdshot. After listening to the speech, I had to order the book from the library. Not only was the story incredible, the fact that it was literally so close to home–I just had to read the whole thing.

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I was not disappointed. The author/narrator of this true crime (for lack of a better genre) story is relatively silent. You know who is telling the story, but as he states in his Author’s Note–he tries to stay out of the picture. This story isn’t about him. It is almost documentaryesque in form because of that.

This creates a very informative and involved picture of multiple points of view:  Rais (the victim), Mark (the shooter), and their families and friends who were involved afterwards.

Why is this such an interesting story? Some guy shot another guy at a convenience store. We hear about that all the time. There’s a few differences.

First, the shooting itself. This was only a month after September 11, 2001. Mark was enraged after the attack and in his words, became a “white terrorist.” His hatred for Arabs caused him to shoot 3 men, Rais being one of them (and the only survivor.

The second half of the story is what Rais does after he heals. I mean this guy is just…Captain America, basically. Seriously, if anyone deserves to wear that shield, it’s this guy. I’m not even going to tell you. At the very least, watch the TED talk. I would encourage you to read the book. It’s going to change your perspective on some things, I promise.

In this day and age, we really all need to think a bit more like Rais.

Killing Kennedy

Certain moments define a generation. They are the points in our history that we talk about forever, the stories we put in our books, the memories we tell our grandchildren.

For my generation, that moment was 9/11. I will never forget sitting in a testing room with 20 of my classmates, finishing early and hearing the buzz of the nervous teachers, then watching in horror when they turned on the TV.

Before that poignant day, I heard so many adults say, “I’ll never remember where I was the day Kennedy was shot.” And I always thought that was such a weird comment, but now I get it. Those memories really do live forever.

Until recently, the 1960s seemed so long ago. Camelot seemed so old-fashioned and unrealistic, and I was never really interested in that time period. It bored me to death, to be honest. But now, with civil rights issues suddenly exploding, the 1960s are no longer boring…they are happening all over again.

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My husband has been reading…or at least buying…Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series, and so far has found them very interesting. I don’t lean quite so Right, so I was avoiding these, afraid that they would be a little too political for me. However, Killing Kennedy really didn’t have any political slant at all, for being a book about a president. Most of the base details I already knew, but it was interesting to ready about the finer points of what happened leading up to the days of the assassination and what happened after. The book was obviously well researched and well written.

My only real criticism is that the authors (not sure who did most of the writing) use the world “belie” waaaaaay too much. Seriously, it’s a weird word and they use it over and over and over again. I know. I’m nitpicking. But it stuck out at me.

If you like histories, this is a good one. It reminded me of the Pearl Harbor history that I read of FDR not too long ago. It wasn’t a full biography of JFK, just a moment in time. I won’t be so hesitant to read the other three O’Reilly books in the series now.

 

Counting this for PopSugar #43. It takes place in Dallas, which is not my hometown but it’s where I live now. My home town is a tiny town of 10,000 people.  #43. A book that takes place in your hometown.

Movin On–Indy to Dallas

We’ve been in Dallas almost three months now. That’s crazy to think about sometimes. I grew up in Indiana, and while I moved gradually from the north down to Indy, I never left the state. And now, we are living so far from home that sometimes it feels like a whole other planet.

There are a bunch of differences between Indiana and Texas, and a lot of similarities too. I meant to write this post sooner, and just kept putting it off. I don’t know why. It just never felt right. Still doesn’t, really.

Here’s some differences:

1. The tap water is never ever cold. This is a huge annoyance to me. I can’t just go get a drink from the faucet, I have to let the pitcher get cold in the fridge before it’s drinkable. I guess because the ground (and in turn the pipes) is warmer?

2. The roads don’t have potholes…just ridges. And mannnnn are they bumpy. They don’t use salt here from what I understand, so they don’t get the big gouges in the asphalt like Indiana does. Over time it just kind of shifts and creases into itself.

3. And speaking of roads….all of the sudden….SEMIs!!!! Funny story with this one. The freeways here are insane. They just build roads on top of roads on top of roads. So when you go on an onramp, you might have another on ramp crossing next to you, with cars coming the opposite direction. If you aren’t expecting it, it can be pretty jarring. One night, we were coming back from the movies, and hit one of these. R was driving, and all of the sudden, there was this semi coming RIGHT AT US. It looked like it was on our bridge. We thought we were going to die. But no, it was on the bridge next to us, but it was so scary. Driving here is taking a bit to get used to.

 

4. Children in bars. This has got to be one of my biggest annoyances. Until 9, children are allowed in bars. So all my favorite hangouts, where I go to be an adult, become family restaurants essentially. Which, on one hand, is great because our best friends have a 1 year old (who is an absolute joy when we go out), so they are able to come out with us more often. On the other, it means that there are 8 year olds running around being idiots while I’m trying to have a peaceful adult evening. For me, there’s a difference between Bar and Family Restaurant.

5. SPEED BUMPS EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6. There are these things called Frontage Roads that make entering and exiting highways so much easier. Thank you Texas for Frontage Roads.

7. I have trucker arm from sitting by my window in my office. Not even kidding. One of my arms is noticeably frecklier/tanner/sunburnt than the other.

8. Clouds are rare. It may be a little overcast in the morning, but by 10-11 am, it will be completely blue sky. And when it rains, it will rain straight down with very little wind. We had one really big storm with 90 MPH winds, but the air is just so still here.

 

My favorite thing about living in Dallas so far is that there is always something to do. There is always a festival going on–really just about every weekend. R is out of town this weekend, but Untappd is having a beer festival that we would have gone to probably if he was here. We’ve been to a Chipotle festival, there’s a big whiskey tasting coming up. There’s certainly no shortage of restaurants for us to check out. We also live right next door to the Dallas Arboretum, which is a big garden architecture place. I’ve even joined a yoga studio, which is something I’ve never considered doing until we moved here. We live right on a big lake with a walking path all the way around, and though we haven’t researched it yet, I think there are canoe/kayak rentals and stuff like that. There’s also a much bigger reservoir not too far from us.

Also, the people here are super friendly. You can’t go to a grocery store or sit at a bar without someone striking up a conversation with you. For someone who grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone…that’s my honey. I may be an introvert, but I also feel more awkward in social situations if I just sit at a bar and DON’T talk to the bartender, or the person sitting alone next to me. That’s just so weird to me. Because back home…I probably KNEW that bartender or that person sitting next to me. So when the girl in line behind me the other day at Target started laughing because she had a stack full of freezer meals and made fun of herself for being single, of course I chimed in about how not too long ago I was buying exactly the same thing! We were so distracted, the cashier had to cough to get my attention when it was my turn in line! Whoops!

It still doesn’t completely feel like home yet. My apartment does. I love our townhouse, with my office and the porch overlooking the neighborhood. But I’m still getting used to living in Texas. I’m trying to get out more often on my own, and I think once R’s store opens, that will help–we’ll get into a real routine, and I’ll stop by the store on my way back from yoga, like I used to do on my way home from work. We’re getting there. It was a bigger adjustment than I expected it to be, but it hasn’t necessarily been a bad one, just different.

I do really love that there is a taco stand on every block. Thank you lord for TexMex.

Obsessed with this Book

I’m pretty sure I could use Harry Potter for every single one of these challenges this month, but I’m trying really hard to save you the monotony. Hazard of rereading them, I guess. I AM obsessed with them.

Instead, I’ll pull out my new old copy of The Great Gatsby. After seeing the movie, I became obsessed with finding a copy for my own library. I thought it would be easy to find at a used bookstore, but apparently, everyone else had the same idea as I did. All of the copies I found were either completely ratty, or written in and highlighted all over–a huge pet peeve of mine.

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It took me until we reached Dallas to finally find this almost perfect copy. Now I can rest a little easier with Fitzgerald on my shelves. Ok, not really. There’s way too many greats left to collect.

Comfy Read

If I were more photogenic, you’d get a super cute picture of me, curled up in a blanket in my favorite reading spot, with a topknot and a cup of coffee. Some kind of pinterest/tumblr/instagram type shit.

Instead, you get a picture of Pride and Prejudice hanging out in said reading spot. Sorry guys. I’m lame today.

Also, it’s like 90 degrees today. In October. Welcome to Dallas in the fall.

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Book and Candle

I completely missed my window for this picture this morning. I was so bummed. Clouds are funny here. It’ll be gloomy only for a few hours, and then it all burns off and we have blaring blue skies for the rest of the day.

I thought we might luck out and have rain and clouds all day today, since it was so stormy this morning. But, no dice. By 10, it was bright and sunshiney again. Don’t get me wrong, sun is nice and all, but Texas is in a drought, and I really miss the long stretches of grey that we had in Indiana.

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Read This Month

I can’t believe tomorrow is already October. We’ve been in Dallas a month and a half, and things are finally starting to cool down. Or…at least as much as Texas cools. The State Fair just opened up, and my lucky husband gets to take a work trip over there today. I’m so jealous! Hopefully we can make it over there soon.

I read a ton of books great books this month. Now that I’ve set a schedule for myself, I’m getting quite a variety again. And I’m allowing myself to ditch books if they aren’t up to par, which I had stopped doing at one point. Gotta stop wasting time. Some books just aren’t blog-worthy.

(Which, on that point. Aaron’s Rod is on the list below, but I’m not going to do a post about it. I got about 65% through it before I had to give it up. Far enough to count it as “read” but I’m not going to bore you guys with a terrible post. Not DH Lawrence’s best work, let’s leave it at that.)

And now, the books!

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Read this month:

Throne of Glass by Sarah Mass

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Justine by Lawrence Durrell

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Atlantia by Ally Condie

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (which didn’t make it onto the list in the picture…oops!)

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Aaron’s Rod by DH Lawrence