18 December 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: From Fantasy to Biography; Or My Reading Life

Reading during the Holiday SeasonBaby it's cold outside! Winter is here, even if the calendar says not quite yet. We have snow and the promise of a white Christmas, though there's hardly enough white stuff on the ground to shovel.

We also made enormous progress on our holiday shopping, and I think we're done. Phew. We haven't wrapped anything, but, hey, that's what Christmas Eve is for, right?

All that running around plus two holiday parties meant very little time for reading, though I did manage to finish one book, reread another, ditch one, and start two more.

This Week's Highlight: On Wednesday over on the AudioFile Blog, I will be recommending five good audiobooks for winter solstice listening. Because the kids are likely on school holidays, two of the titles are appropriate for family listening. I hope you take a look.

What I Read Last Week

Review: The City of Brass by S. A. ChakrabortyThe City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager, Nov.): Like many of you, I often shy away from the big-buzz books because they so often fall short of the hype. Not so with The City of Brass. The setting is the Mideast and the time period is likely the turn of the 19th century. The action starts in the streets of Cairo and ends at the magical city of Daevabad, the city of brass where only those with djinn blood may enter. Our protagonist is Nahri, a 20-year-old orphan who has no knowledge of her family or background and who supports herself by attempting to heal the sick and by reading fortunes, with a little swindling and thieving on the side. During a ceremony in which she is pretending to perform a kind of exorcism, she inadvertently conjures up a dangerous djinn warrior, and her life is completely flipped.

Based on Mideast folklore and traditions, Nahri's story is full of adventure, magic, politics, danger, friendship, and intrigue. I loved the setting and the beings Nahri meets on her journey. Secretive Dara, is a djinn of many talents whose legendary reputation is either hero or uber-villain, depending on one's family's history. Ali, the second son of Daevabad's ruler, is both a trained warrior and a devout Islam. Muntadhir, brother to Ali, is the heir to the throne and lives for all the pleasures his money and status can buy. Nahri is streetwise in the human world, but how will she fare in the city of brass, where the king takes a special interest in her and claims she is the half-blood daughter of the djinn's most famous healer?

Complex, different, non-Western, adult and the promise of more books to come. Don't hesitate to give The City of Brass a try.

Audiobook notes: I read most of this novel in print, but I listened to the middle third when cooking last week. I enjoyed Soneela Nankani's performance of the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 19 hr, 35 min). I noted good pacing and and distinct voices for the characters. I especially liked hearing the correct pronunciation of the names, beings, and places. Overall, however, Nankani didn't capture my attention enough to prevent my returning to print.

Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (Roc, 2016): I love this alternate history, time-bending series in which the librarians of an extra-world library engage in espionage and theft, um, preservation of books that are emblematic or important to each of the different versions of the world. When I received The Lost Plot, the newest installment, which is coming out next month, I thought I'd reread the entire series--this time in audio instead of print (Audible Studios; 10 hr, 31 min). It was fun to start over with the first book in the series and see librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, at the beginning of their working relationship. I had forgotten some of the details of their adventure in an alternative steampunk London, and the overall story held up well to a second reading. I like both the world building and the characters, and the story is light enough for holiday season reading. Book lovers and librarians should give the series a try.

Audiobook notes: Susan Duerden's performance is enthusiastic but almost too dramatic for my tastes. She creates distinct voices and has good pacing, but I felt as if she were reading to children. The protagonists of the series are absolutely adults and there is some mention of sex, so the juxtaposition of the theatrical reading with some of the text was jarring. I noticed that she narrates all the books in the series, and I'm not quite sure if I'm going to finish my reread in print or audio. Stay tuned.

Thoughts: The Shores of Tripoli: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates by James L. HaleyThe Shores of Tripoli: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates by James L. Haley (Putnam, 2016). I loved the Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series (you may have seen the movie Master and Commander based on the books), so thought I'd like Haley's new series, which explores the early days of the U.S. Navy. Set in 1801 in the Mediterranean, the book is full of fascinating details of life aboard a naval vessel and introduces us to pirates, privateers, and European and North African politics. Although I have a paperback, I decided to try the audiobook. Sadly, Paul Boehmer's performance (Penguin Audio; 15 hr, 43 min) didn't work at all for me. I could hear breath noises, and there was something about Boehmer's cadence and earnest delivery that bothered me. I listened for almost 2 hours before returning it to Audible. The story definitely has promise, so I'll continue the book in print, but probably not until after the holidays. There is quite a lot of information dumping at the beginning--basically to set up the complex foundation of the series--which may have been some of the problem with the audio. I'll let you know if I carry on.

What I'm Reading Now

2 books for December reading

I started listening to Felicity Hayes-McCoy's The Library at the Edge of the World, read by Emma Lowe (Dreamscape; 9 hr, 42 min). The story is set in modern times in a remote area of Ireland and is about a woman of a certain age who is taking a chance on new beginnings. I'm enjoying the story and the narration. I also started reading Laura Thompson's The Six (Picador, 2017, paperback). I'm one of those people who's totally fascinated with the Mitford sisters and can't seem to read enough about them (and by them). This new biography is terrific so far.


Sarah's Book Shelves 12/18/17, 7:49 AM  

I'd never heard of The City of Brass before it was a Dec BOTM pick...but not surprising since fantasy is not my cup of tea. Hope you enjoyed it!

Amanda 12/18/17, 8:24 AM  

I can't wait to get my hands on City of Brass. I had conflicting thoughts about it - I love Middle Eastern fantasy, but dislike thief protagonists generally - but I previewed the book via Kindle and just adored it. I tried listening to an audio sample, though, and I didn't like the narrator, particularly for this character. So I'm just waiting until my library has finally processed its order to get me a copy! Heh.

I listened to The Invisible Library this summer. I'd tried reading in print but my life was too chaotic at the time to get into the meat of the story, and the audiobook helped. I generally like Susan Duerden's narration so I didn't notice the childlike quality you mention. I know I need to get back into this series but haven't yet. I remain on the fence about it.

Greg 12/18/17, 9:10 AM  

City of Brass sounds really neat, and I liked The Invisible Library but haven't continued with the series yet. The shores of Tripoli sounds like something that would appeal to me, sorry to hear the audio didn't work out.

Hope you have a great week!!!

bermudaonion 12/18/17, 9:11 AM  

We're getting a little break from the cold now, thankfully. Audio books have kept me afloat lately. The Six appeals to me too so I'll be interested to see what you think of it.

Laurel-Rain Snow 12/18/17, 9:46 AM  

The Six sounds really good. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy the week...and the holidays. Here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

Kathy Martin 12/18/17, 11:42 AM  

City of Brass does sound intriguing. I liked The Invisible Library too. I'm also glad I'm not the only who wraps gifts on Christmas Eve. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Unknown 12/18/17, 12:23 PM  

I feel compelled to read any book with "library" in the title, so I shall have to look for two of yours. I've just started listening to more audiobooks this year. It's odd how, in the past, I didn't see a lot of difference between the narrators. I've really changed my mind about that.

Harvee 12/18/17, 1:46 PM  

I'm going to find out more about the Mitford Sisters!

Sue Jackson 12/18/17, 5:34 PM  

That's pretty good for a busy week! Sounds like a nice variety. The Invisible Library books sound intriguing. My son always re-reads a series before reading the latest installment - luckily he is a very fast reader.

Enjoy your books this week - and all hat busy holiday stuff, too!


Book By Book

Susan @ The Book Bag 12/18/17, 7:57 PM  

The Library at the Edge of the World sounds interesting. The narrator does so much for whether I enjoy a book or not. And The Six sounds like something I would like as well. I haven't read a biography type book in awhile. I'll have to check that one out. Happy reading and listening!

Yvonne 12/18/17, 8:10 PM  

It seems like it's hard to make reading time for many of us at this time of year. I hope you have a great week!

Nan 12/18/17, 9:52 PM  

I have The Sisters by Mary S Lovell. I, too, am fascinated by these women.

pussreboots 12/18/17, 10:03 PM  

City of Brass is on my wishlist. Thanks for stopping by.

rhapsodyinbooks 12/19/17, 6:37 AM  

I didn't know about the series with The Invisible Library - sounds fun!

Daryl 12/19/17, 11:28 AM  

The Invisible Library sounds like my cuppa ...

i started the Eve Dallas series and while i like the characters and the cops of the future the woman reading the series is beginning to rub me the wrong way .. i am giving the series one more audio chance and if the reader is still shrieking the character's insecurities i am outta there .. easier to read w/o the angst

Heidenkind 12/21/17, 9:25 PM  

I’d like to listen to City of Brass (it’s available on hoopla), but uhg 20 hours. At the rate I listen to audiobooks I might forget what went on at the beginning by the time I get to the end.

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