18 June 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A Quartet of Reviews

Four book reviews for June 2018June is usually a pretty easygoing month, but the last few weeks I've been juggling work deadlines with house and yard work. We're also in the final stages of planning my mother's 90th birthday celebration. I'm not complaining about being busy, but I haven't had much reading time.

The only exciting news is that my bird feeders were attacked by a bear. This is the third or fourth time this has happened over many years, but this time the bear totally destroyed the feeders. So we (actually, Mr. BFR), had to reset the poles and buy new feeders. We took the feeders in at night for a week, but the bear seems to have moved on. One of our neighbors saw a mother and cubs getting into his garbage; maybe they're the bears that were in our yard too.

Here's what I read and listened to over the past couple of weeks.

Review of A Stash of One's Own edited by Clara ParkesA Stash of One's Own edited by Clara Parkes (Abrams, 2017): You don't have to be a knitter to laugh, and cry, at the 21 essays collected in this book. Some of the knitting greats--teachers, designers, bloggers, and producers--reflect on their relationship to their yarn stash. If you're a hobbyist of any kind (or even an avid reader), you will be able to relate to the women and men who struggle with their yarn collection. Many ask themselves if they're borderline hoarders; some found joy in giving their stashes away. I nodded my head in agreement with many of the stories: "I have no idea what I'm going to do with that yarn, but I have to have it"; "I didn't bring yarn or needles on vacation but I really need to knit now" (and so go out and buy new supplies). Other essays brought tears, as knitters talked about the stashes they inherited from their mothers or when one man described how, when he was a kid, he had to hide his passion for "pretty string" from his parents. Whether you keep a stash of yarn (books, embroidery floss, tools, or fabrics) or buy only what you need when you need it, you'll be able to relate to many of these essays. I listened to the unabridged audiobook for a freelance assignment (Audible Studios, 5 hr, 1 min). The essays were read (in turn) by Kevin T. Collins, Kate Udall, and Eliza Foss. Each narrator captured the emotional heart of the essays: bringing out the humor or the poignancy, depending on the knitter's story. Recommended in either medium.

Review of Before They Are Hanged by Joe AbercombieBefore They Are Hanged by Joe Abercombie (Orbit, 2015):  The second entry in the First Law Trilogy is in some ways stronger than the initial installment because the action has started. The first book introduced the characters and set up the various factions: the royal court, the magi, the Northmen, the southern peoples, and the Eaters, to name just some. And, of course, the factions are made up of citizens, rulers, wannabe rules, fighters, trackers, and so forth. In this book, the battle lines have been drawn, and some countries are better at warfare than others. Back in the cities merchant classes are maneuvering for power and wealth, while the Inquisition is determined to stop any potential rebellion. Finally, in the wilderness an unlikely band of four men and one woman are a quest to find the one thing that will help humans fight the Eaters. I'm not going to spoil anything by telling you what happens, but I can assure your there are deaths, betrayals, surprising alliances, twists, and bloody battles. The characters in the First Law Trilogy are flawed and can make mistakes, but they can also learn and grow. Abercombie is a master at creating believable characters that easily draw your interest (whether you like them or not). The action, as I mentioned, takes place on several fronts, and even in audio (Hachette Audio; 22 hr, 39 min) I had no problem remembering the characters or their specific story arcs. Steven Pacey nails this series: he never falters with the accents and his timing pulled me along. I'm trying to wait a week or so before I finish the trilogy so I can make my visit to this universe last. (personal collection)

Review of Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown, July 17, 2018). Oh boy can Abbott tell a good tale. This is the story of two women with PhDs doing research in human biology. Their relationship began when they met as seniors in high school, becoming best friends on the one hand and fierce competitors for a coveted scholarship on the other. Their friendship takes a dark turn when Diane confesses that she's done "something really bad." Once Kit learns Diane's secret she is haunted by it, and disassociates herself from Diane as soon as she can. Years later, Kit has a fairly secure position in a famous lab, hoping her boss will tap her for a spot in a new project. Just days before the boss is about to announce her new team, who should walk into the lab but Diane. This psychological thriller takes place in two time periods: Kit and Diane as teens and Kit and Diane in the present. The tension  is delicious, and the manipulative characters (all with secrets) will make you cringe (or cheer or boo, depending). An underlying theme is women against the system, and running questions are, How far would a woman go to get respect and power? Is Diane horrible? Is Kit an innocent? What about their boss, the secretary, the other researchers? I loved Chloe Cannon's well-paced performance (Hachette Audio; 11 hr, 2 min). She didn't give anything away, so every new piece of information, every slight twist or reveal came as a surprise. She kept the women's dialogue distinct, and the male voices were fine. Put this thriller on your list (print or audio) for next month. (review copy provided by the audio publisher)

Review of Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian LiNumber One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (Henry Holt; June 19). This debut novel has two faces. On one level is the intergenerational drama of the Han family, owners of the Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, and the off-duty doings of two of their long-term staff. The two grown Han brothers have different ideas about the future of the restaurant founded by their late father; and their mother, newly widowed, is beginning to find her inner strength. The other level focuses on the personal issues faced by the characters, such as addiction, marriage, aging, and parenthood. Li does a good job contrasting life in the Duck House with life at home; for example, Jimmy Han competently oversees the restaurant with a paternal eye, but falls apart when it comes to romantic relationships. One of the plot lines revolves around a kind of Chinese godfather, with whom the Han family has a love-hate relationship. I was expecting a light, fun summer novel and so was surprised that Number One Chinese Restaurant offers more than a simple escape read. While this character-driven novel won't make my top-ten list for 2018, it shows Lillian Li's potential, and I've put her on my list of authors to watch. (review copy provided by the publisher)


Beth F 6/18/18, 6:41 AM  

Commenting so I can get notified of *your* comments.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 6/18/18, 7:12 AM  

SO thrilled to hear the new Megan Abbott is good!! I'll be picking it up soon :)

sherry fundin 6/18/18, 8:36 AM  

Quite a selection of stories and some great reviews. Give Me Your Hand really peaked my interest.
sherry @ fundinmental

Susie | Novel Visits 6/18/18, 8:39 AM  

I'm so happy to hear you liked Give Me Your Hand. I have it coming up soon and since it will be my first Megan Abbott book it's nice knowing it's a good one. Have a great week.

Kay 6/18/18, 9:23 AM  

Like the others, I'm looking at the Megan Abbott book. She does teens very, very well. And I like the sound of the story in this one. I'll definitely be reading it.

And bears - oh my! Ha! Can't imagine having bears in your yard, but I do know that when we vacation in Ruidoso, NM (the mountains), trash goes into big dumpsters located throughout the neighborhoods. And the top has to be clanged down - the bears, you know. We're into spider season here and scorpion and snake and my husband showed me a new picture from our game camera of a feral hog - a big one. Sigh.

Laurel-Rain Snow 6/18/18, 9:49 AM  

Wow, Give Me Your Hand looks like my kind of read. Thanks for sharing...and enjoy your week.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

bermudaonion 6/18/18, 11:01 AM  

I love Megan Abbott's books and requested Give Me Your Hand on Netgalley weeks ago. I just checked and my request is still pending so I guess I'm not going to get it. *sigh*

rhapsodyinbooks 6/18/18, 11:55 AM  

I agree Abercrombie gets better after you know the "rules" of his world. The Megan Abbot book sounds very intriguing!

Vicki 6/18/18, 2:33 PM  

I haven't seen these before, they all sound good.

Kathy Martin 6/18/18, 3:31 PM  

Nice assortment of books! We had bears in the old neighborhood but I haven't seen any around the new neighborhood yet. BTW, that's okay with me. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Yvonne 6/18/18, 4:53 PM  

Nice list of books. Give Me Your Hand really looks good. Have a great week!

Greg 6/18/18, 8:03 PM  

I've been looking forward to Number One chinese restaurant for a while, so I'm glad to hear it was pretty good.

Mystica 6/20/18, 9:56 AM  

All new to me books. Enjoy them all and have a good week.

Les in Oregon 6/21/18, 3:07 PM  

A bear?! And I thought squirrels feeding at the bird feeders was annoying. I think I'll take those over a bear!

So strange about Blogger's comment notification. Such a nuisance having to check Comments Awaiting Moderation on a daily basis. :(

Daryl 6/26/18, 8:39 AM  

the First Law trilogy is now on my must listen to list ... thanks

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