10 December 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Preholiday Reading

4 short book reviewsThis has been a crazy two weeks: I've been working hard, reading a bit, finishing the shopping (we're done!), and getting the house holiday ready. I swear, every second of my time has been taken up.

The good news is that we're in great shape and it's only December 10. For the first time in years, we'll be able to relax and enjoy the season. My stress levels are near zero!

Have you seen Netflix's version of Dumplin' yet? We really liked it, and I thought the film stayed true to the spirit of the book, even if some things were different. But isn't that always the case when a book is adapted for the screen?

For example, I love the series Outlander, even if the arc of a few characters has changed and even if the show isn't 100 percent following the books. It's still good. I think the writers and directors have captured the magic of the books, and I'm fine with that.

Here's what I read over the last two weeks. If you're interested in food or drink writing, I encourage you to look at my Saturday post, which covers three books that would make great holiday gifts.

Review of Red Sister by Mark LawrenceRed Sister by Mark Lawrence (Ace, February 2018). This first in a fantasy trilogy starts off slowly, introducing us to the characters, setting up the premise, and showing us the alternate world. I can surely understand why some readers gave up early, but if you stick with this book, you're in for a treat. In the world of Red Sister, nuns do more than hold the faith; they are also warriors and scholars. Our primary hero is young Nona Grey who, despite being just a child, is accused of murdering a grown man who was hurting her friend. Saved at the last second by Sister Glass of the Sweet Mercy Convent, Nona eventually settles into her new life as a initiate in the convent, learning to fight and use poisons along with her regular lessons. Over the course of her youth, Nona also discovers the meaning of friendship and her true heritage. Mixed in with familiar fantasy plot lines are some surprises, a unique universe, and many strong women. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books; 19 hr, 21 min), read by Heather O'Neill. This is my first experience with O'Neill, and I was pretty impressed. I thought she did a great job with the dialogue, giving appropriate vocal tones to each character. Her diction was clear, and she kept my interest throughout. I was relieved to see that she performs the second book in the series, and I sure hope she's also around for the final installment. (library book)

Review of Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-BrenyahFriday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner Books, October 2018). Okay guys, I think I'm now a short-story enthusiast, because this is the second collection that I just couldn't put down. Wow. Some of the stories in this collection are very loosely connected in setting, but they all share similar themes of being black in America, touching on family, power, death, poverty, working for minimum wage, education, and ethics. Adjei-Brenyah's worlds are mostly futuristic or semi-dystopian (some are full-on speculative), and each character's journey grabbed my attention. In one, a young man is working at an outdoor store at the mall, hoping to earn top sales so he can give his mom a new winter coat. In another, a usually straight-laced black teen reacts to a news story of a white man who killed seven very young black children and used self-defense as justification. In the title story, frenzied mall shoppers are afflicted with a zombie like condition, destroying stores in their quest for the perfect gift. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Recorded Books; 7 hr, 8 min), read by Corey Allen and Carra Patterson. The bulk of the stories are read by Allen, whose performance is near-perfect. Patterson's work is equally impressive. Highly recommended in print or audio. (For more on the audiobook, see AudioFile magazine.)

Review of The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace JohnsonThe Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson (Viking, April 2018). So many things about this book called to me, particularly true crime, fly fishing, and evolutionary biology. In 2009, a young, promising American musician, studying abroad, broke into a satellite branch of the British Museum of Natural History and stole 299 specimens of tropical birds. These weren't just any old stuffed birds, but were important examples for scientific study and included many collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently came up with the idea of natural selection at the same time as Charles Darwin. The birds were all rare, endangered, and very important to ornithologists, evolutionary biologists, and even climate scientists. So why did Edwin Rist commit this crime? He was a world-renown salmon flytier, who was obsessed with obtaining the rare bird feathers, which would advance his craft and bring him almost unlimited income from selling the bird carcasses, one beautiful feather at a time. Investigative journalist Johnson, a trout fly-fisherman, became intrigued with the case. Although Rist was arrested 18 months after the heist, he didn't serve jail time, and quite a number of the stolen birds remained unaccounted for. Johnson was captivated by the crime and the idea that someone would be driven to steal feathers just to tie flies that would never actually be used to catch salmon. He also wanted to know why Rist was released by the British courts and whether he worked alone. I was totally drawn in to Rist's story and Johnson's investigation. The crime is heartbreaking and mind-boggling and shows how some passions can have a dark side. You don't have to be a fly-fisherman to enjoy this book; Feather Thief would appeal to anyone who likes true crime. (library book)

Review of Impossible Fortress by Jason RekulakImpossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (Simon & Schuster, February 7). I had absolutely no idea what this book was about when I reached into my backlog of review copies and decided to give this a try. Set in 1987, when few people had a home computer and CompuServe ruled the dial-up-connected world, this is part coming-of-age story and part homage to a simpler, more private era. Billy Marvin has two loves: writing computer games for his Commodore 64 and Vanna White (of Wheel of Fortune fame). When he and his fellow nerdy friends develop a scheme to steal copies of Playboy magazine featuring Vanna in her birthday suit, Billy discovers that he's not alone in dreaming of becoming a world-famous computer game coder and that, despite his better instincts, he's not above getting into very bad trouble. This was a fun, cute, and nostalgic story. I really liked Billy and completely understood the issues he faced--his loyalty to his best friends, his passion for programming, and his budding romance as well as his genuine regret when he becomes involved in something he knows is dead wrong. This novel (not a YA book) is for those of us who remember the 1980s--even those of us (like me) who were well out of high school by then. The plot is somewhat predictable but no less charming and is full of pop culture references. This is the perfect stress-reducing read. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 7 hr, 23 min), read by Griffin Newman, whose expressive performance added to the emotional depth of Billy's story. I liked his characterizations and good delivery of the dialogue. The audiobook has some well-done sound effects as well. (review copy from the publisher)


Susie | Novel Visits 12/10/18, 8:32 AM  

So nice to have all your shopping done. I wish I could say the same. I only have a few gifts left, but they're the tough ones.

You have several books on your list that I looked at, but never got to. Friday Black sounds especially good and short stories on audio might be perfect for this time of year.

Amanda 12/10/18, 8:50 AM  

I got right about to where Nona is going through all the politics and the beginnings of fighting lessons at the nunnery in Red Sister. Up to that point I'd found it really interesting, but the politicking and fighting just became monotonous. I've considered going back to it at some point, maybe skimming through those sections to see if it gets better.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 12/10/18, 8:56 AM  

Lucky you! I'm almost there on the Xmas chores...my big ones are out of the way, but still have a couple more to do.

bermudaonion 12/10/18, 11:00 AM  

I haven't read Dumplin' but we watched it last night and I thought it was great. I want to read the book now.

The Feather Thief sounds like something I'd like. I read The Impossible Fortress last year and loved it.

Yvonne 12/10/18, 11:27 AM  

I haven't seen Dumplin' yet, but I've heard good things about it. I'll have to give it a try. I do enjoy Outlander, even though I never read the books.

Hope you have a great week!

Laurel-Rain Snow 12/10/18, 11:33 AM  

Congrats on getting so much done! I mark myself as lazy, since I do gift cards for most people...and that list is shorter than it once was.

I did see Dumplin' on Netflix yesterday, and now I want to read the book! I guess it's supposed to work the opposite way.

Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

pussreboots 12/10/18, 11:42 AM  

I haven't done anything yet for Christmas. This month has been chaotic. This Christmas will be low-key. My weekly update

rhapsodyinbooks 12/10/18, 12:00 PM  

Actually I like the parts of Outlander better that DON'T follow the books as closely, especially the "politically incorrect" aspects that were left out of the tv series. And anyway, who can resist the actors playing Claire and Jamie, or even Rollo?!!!

Vicki 12/10/18, 12:06 PM  

Good for you getting things done so early into December! I'm always a last minute finisher. I watched Dumplin' last week and loved it. Now I want to read the book.

sherry fundin 12/10/18, 12:50 PM  

Stress levels near zero...that's ALL GOOOD. :-)
sherry @ fundinmental

Aymee 12/10/18, 1:34 PM  

Red Sister has been on my list forever. One day, I'll get it read.

My list

Kathy Martin 12/10/18, 2:48 PM  

It's nice to have the holidays organized so that you can actually enjoy them. I'm there too. Nice variety of books. The Lawrence one sounds good but I don't know if I'd last through the slow start. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Greg 12/11/18, 12:57 AM  

Red Sister sounds really good, and he's got some books coming out next year that I'm interested in, so now I kinda want to try this series too! And I haven't seen Dumplin' but from the reaction I've seen so far it sounds like it's pretty good!

Susan Schleicher 12/12/18, 10:41 AM  

Yay you for being so caught up with the holidays! I have Dumplin' om my bookshelf to read. I really need to get to it. Have a great week!

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