24 September 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: I'm in a Reading Mood

Good books for fall readingYay for cooler weather! I've been re-energized with the official start of fall. I've been baking, reading, knitting, and getting a head start on the end-of-season yard work.

With indoor living comes a reckoning of the accumulated clutter, and I'm once again facing a major book culling. Thanks to summer travel, I let my book acquisitions get out of hand--both recent book purchases and review copies. Thus it's time to reassess the shelves that hold older books, including my always accumulating cookbooks.

You wouldn't know it from looking at my house, but I'm not a fan of having books on every available horizontal surface. I need to get everything back on a shelf or in a giveaway/donation pile.

Here's what I read over the last two weeks.

Review of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia OwensWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Putnam, August). There was so much buzz about this book, I decided to hold off a bit until I forgot the reviews and could go in mostly blind. Set in the North Carolina marshland during the Vietnam War era, Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of a young girl who is gradually abandoned by her family before she's even 10 years old. Wise in the ways of the marsh and with the help of a very few trusted friends, Kya manages to fend for herself and avoid much contact with the outside world, until as a young woman, she's forced to give a reckoning of her character. Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part character study, this book was almost impossible to stop reading. Kya's struggle for survival and self-identity is both heartbreaking and tender, and I grew to love the marsh and its birds almost as much as she did. The book is well deserving of all its praise. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 12 hr, 12 min) read by Cassandra Campbell, whose performance enveloped me in Kya's world. The quality of Campbell's voice perfectly matched the mood of this book, and she nailed the characters' personalities. It's a don't-miss listen. (Audiobook review copy provided by the publisher.)

Review of The Husband Hunters by Anne de CourcyThe Husband Hunters by Anne de Courcy (St. Martin's Press, August). Even before I watched Downton Abbey, I knew of the Gilded Age phenomenon of rich American women marrying into European (especially British) upper-class families, giving the women a title and their husbands much needed income. De Courcy's fascinating book explores the hows, whys, and consequences of these cross-Atlantic marriages. The book does more than follow the courtship of a few young girls; it also compares and contrasts U.S. and British culture in the areas of social class, social climbing, views of marriage, feminism, the raising of children, family obligations, and parents' expectations. The Husband Hunters is an easy read, combining sociology and history with good gossip and firsthand accounts of dinners, balls, and fabulous mansions. American and British attitudes toward husband hunting varied, but in the United States, women who married overseas were often criticized for taking their large inheritances out of the country. In England and Europe, they saved struggling estates but had to deal with the realities of everyday life in their drafty castles. These women gave birth to a generation of 20th-century British leaders, including Winston Churchill. Did you know Prince William's great-great-grandmother was American? The print version includes a couple of photo inserts. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Macmillan  Audio; 10 hr, 41 min) read by Clare Corbett, who did a fine job. My audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine. (Print copy: personal collection.)

Review of The Lost Queen by Signe PikeThe Lost Queen by Signe Pike (Touchstone, September). I really liked this novel about Languoreth, the twin sister of the man who would inspire the Merlin legend. Set in 6th-century Scotland, the book follows the fates of the siblings--one destined for a strategic marriage, one destined to be a Druid priest. Languoreth wanted to be a keeper of the old faith, but instead finds herself mired in the politics of her husband's court and the escalating conflict (often violent) between the new Christians with their strict god and the practitioners of and believers in the traditional ways. Woven throughout is an account of the rise of the Pendragons as well as stories of star-crossed lovers, battles, and betrayals. If you're interested in the Arthurian legends and/or medieval Scotland, you'll find plenty to hold your interest. Languoreth's strength and intelligence are balanced by her heart and trust, making her a believable character. The author's note at the end of the book helps place the novel in the context of scholarly research. I took this book with me on vacation and alternated between listening and reading. The unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 17 hr, 44 min) was read by Toni Frutin, whose accent and expressive delivery added immensely to my enjoyment of The Lost Queen. Her good pacing and an understanding of the characters' motivations brought the story alive. (eGalley provided by the publisher; audiobook from my personal collection.)

Review of The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena RossnerThe Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner (Red Hook; September). I have mixed thoughts about this novel, which combines historical fiction with fairy tale retelling and is set in Ukraine during the early days of the Russian pogroms. Teenage sisters Liba and Laya, who live in the woods outside the town of Dubossary, are left on their own when their parents rush to their grandfather's deathbed. Before leaving, their parents tell the girls that they are descendants of shapeshifters: Liba, like her father's Hasidic family, can become a bear, whereas Laya, like her mother's non-Jewish family, can become a swan. They are told to rely on their inner strengths and to take care of each other. Left to their own devices, the normally obedient girls find themselves attracted to boys their father wouldn't approve of and face danger on several fronts. The story alternates perspectives--Liba's in prose and Laya's in verse--and describes historical events with a layer of folklore. The girls contend with divisions within the Jewish community, their own desires, their parents' wishes, and antisemitism. Both the historical and the magical aspects of The Sisters of the Winter Wood were well done, from the details of everyday life to the enchantments of the woods. On the negative side, some of Rossner's lessons were heavy handed and oft-repeated, and the verse sections didn't always work for me. In an author's note, Rossner explains her sources and provides historical and personal context. There is a glossary of Yiddish and other terms. (review copy provided by the publisher.)

Review of Whiskey When We're Dry by John LarisonWhiskey When We're Dry by John Larison (Viking; August). I'm jumping to the chase: this novel will be on my list of top-ten books of the year. Set in the 1880s in the high plains or Rocky Mountain foothills, this is Jessilyn Harney 's story. Jess, motherless just hours after being born, is raised by her Civil War-veteran father and older brother (Noah) in a homestead cabin on a struggling cattle spread. Just a couple of years after her brother heads out to make his way in the world, Jess is orphaned, left with few resources and limited by being a woman. Although Noah has become an outlaw with a price on his head, Jess is determined to find him, her only known kin. Disguised as a man, skilled with a gun and rifle, and blessed with gumption, she finagles a place in the territorial governor's personal militia. The steady job provides an anchor, but she never stops searching for her elusive brother. I was bowled over by the way Whiskey When We're Dry mixes Jess's story of survival and the consequences of her choices with the details of the unforgiving and almost lawless west. In some ways it reminded me of Only Killers and Thieves, but this is a fully American tale and one that explores what happens to women who choose an alternative path. I listened the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 15 hr, 24 min) read by Sophie Amoss. I can't believe I almost turned off the audiobook after the first 3 minutes. My initial impression of Amoss's accent for this book was, No, ugh, I can't listen to that for hours on end. Thankfully I did not turn off my phone. Amoss's performance was brilliant. Her gruff voice and uneducated accent worked beautifully, and I was soon transported across time and space, fully invested in Jess's fate. Amoss has a great sense of timing and created believable characterizations. A highly recommended listen. (eGalley and audibook provided by the publishers.)

Review of A Winter's Promise by Christelle DabosA Winter's Promise by Christelle Dabos (Europa, September). This novel is the first installment in The Mirror Visitor series, which has been translated from the French. This story is a kind of mix of dystopian, fantasy, and science fiction in which Earth has been splintered, though the "arks" (sections of the planet) remain in relatively close proximity. Each ark has its own ruling spirit, political families, and social customs, and the citizens display different extra-human abilities. Ophelia, our hero, is a bookish girl who would rather work in her ark's archives than socialize, let alone marry and have children. Despite her protests, though, she is used to forge a political alliance with Pole, the northernmost ark, and is betrothed to Thorn, a member of one of the leading families. What ensues after Ophelia moves to Pole to await her marriage is an awaking to a life beyond her beloved books: it's a world of shifting alliances, political intrigue, and a cold and distant fiancé. The fantasy elements are in the individuals' powers or talents. Ophelia can travel through mirrors and can determine the history of objects just by touch. Thorn has a deep and impeccable memory, going back to the day of his birth, and is a member of Dragon Clan, which gives him various strengths. A Winter's Promise is the first in a quartet and is very much the setup book: we learn the workings of this alternative world, we get an idea of Ophelia's and Thorn's personalities, and we meet what I assume will be the major players. A million cheers that Ophelia remains true to herself and can be pushed and manipulated only so far. More cheers for the absence of insta-love, for imperfect characters, for a complex plot, and for a unique world. I can't wait to read the next book in the series. (review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R. A. ScottiSudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R. A. Scotti (Back Bay Books, 2004). Huge, destructive hurricanes are becoming more commonplace as we feel the effects of climate change, but in the late 1930s, the idea that a hurricane could do damage to New England was unimaginable. It had been over 100 years since the last super storm came ashore in the Northeast, and in the days before satellites, it was near-impossible to track a system over the ocean--so when the Great Hurricane slammed into Long Island, Rhode Island, and farther north, no one was prepared for nightmare of death and destruction that changed families, communities, and the physical landscape forever. Sudden Sea follows specific New York and Rhode Island families, railways, passenger boats, and towns as they experienced the storm from that calm September morning through to the frightful realization that they were about to enter into a watery, windy hell. Scotti uses a variety of sources, including firsthand accounts and news reports, to  describe how people survived and died and how entire towns were wiped off the map in a matter of hours. There are no particular lessons to be learned here (except, perhaps, to be grateful for storm tracking and to always err on the side of caution), but the stories of the Great Hurricane are gripping. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 7 hr, 6 min) read by L. J. Ganser, who managed to amp up the drama and emotional impact while avoiding the theatrical. His delivery was expressive and engaging and held my interest. A huge thanks to Hachette for providing a PDF of the maps and photos with the digital download edition. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. (Audiobook review copy provided by the publisher.)


Tea 9/24/18, 7:23 AM  

I'm glad you're back from trippin' around. Also, happy you're in the mood for reading books. I've seen the Crawdad title around in different places. I've also seen The Lost Queen. I wonder which of all will you like the best of all.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 9/24/18, 7:26 AM  

So glad you loved Crawdads!! It's definitely one of my favorites of the year!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 9/24/18, 7:43 AM  

Sudden Sea was a powerful read. I’m glad you liked it, too.

Marg 9/24/18, 7:53 AM  

There's definitely been buzz around the Crawdads book

rhapsodyinbooks 9/24/18, 8:59 AM  

Holy cow you have definitely been in a reading mood! I am on the library waiting list for Crawdads.

Susie | Novel Visits 9/24/18, 9:52 AM  

I'm so glad you loved Crawdads and that it held up on audio. I've listened to Cassandra Campbell on other books and she's one of my favorites. I'll be looking for a new audiobook soon. 15 hours is long for me, but I just might need to give Whiskey When We're Dry a try since you raved about it and you rarely steer me wrong.

Kathy Martin 9/24/18, 9:59 AM  

Wow! So many great sounding books! A Winter's Promise and Whiskey When We're Dry both caught my attention. I have some fall yardwork to do too but it has to stop raining first. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Aymee 9/24/18, 11:21 AM  

The Husband Hunters sounds like an interesting book! Ugh, I feel you on the books piling up everywhere. I really need to make a donation as well, soon.

My list!

bermudaonion 9/24/18, 11:25 AM  

I need to cull through my books too and have started a few times but get distracted before I get done.

I've got to get to Crawdads - I'm sure I'll love it.

Laurel-Rain Snow 9/24/18, 12:06 PM  

I am looking at my over-stuffed shelves in my office...and since I don't buy a lot of print books, it is amazing to me how this happened. My shelves in my bedroom and the living room remain pretty stable, though.

It wouldn't be hard to cull these books...but as I look at the titles, I'm thinking: I can't give them away! So I'll probably check out my other shelves.

I've heard such good things about Where the Crawdads Sing, so I'm off to see if it's in the library. Trying to curtail the book buying.

Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

Vicki 9/24/18, 1:21 PM  

I have the audio of Where the Crawdads Sing and almost started it a few weeks ago but decided on another book. When I finish my current listen I'll start it. Good to know you enjoyed it so much.

sherry fundin 9/24/18, 3:03 PM  

I have seen where crawdads sing around the blogosphere and it makes me pause each and every time. :-)
sherry @ fundinmental Sunday Memes

pussreboots 9/24/18, 3:05 PM  

Interesting selection of books. My weekly updates

Mystica 9/24/18, 7:35 PM  

I like your mix of reads. some very interesting reads here. Enjoy them all.

Greg 9/24/18, 7:57 PM  

I'm loving the cooler weather. I hear you though- books have an uncanny way of accumulating and it's definitely an issue. :)

The Lost Queen sounds like something I need to read- 6th century Scotland, Arthurian connections, Christianity vs the old ways. Sounds fascinating!

Nise' 9/24/18, 9:43 PM  

Wow, lots of great sounding books. Where The Crawdads Sing really draws me! Good luck with the book culling. Not a favorite job, but sometimes it must be done.

Hardlyagoddess 9/25/18, 9:11 AM  

What a great line-up of books! I put the Husband Hunters and Whiskey on my list- they sound great!

Katherine P 9/25/18, 5:44 PM  

The Husband Hunters came up on a list of new books that my library had just gotten and I was instantly intrigued. This sounds very interesting. You've got quite a mix of books! When it starts getting cooler - or even when it feels like it's starting to think about cooler - I'm always more in a reading mood!

Girl Who Reads 9/25/18, 7:25 PM  

I'll have to look for A Winter's Promise. I haven't read translated fiction in a while and I do like dystopian type novels. See what I read at Girl Who Reads

Daryl 10/1/18, 9:59 AM  

making note of several of these ... thanks!!

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