What’s Ashley Reading?: Time’s Convert

The last several months have been filled with the project of weeding and shelf reading the juvenile non-fiction books.  This is quite a daunting task since there are TONS of books!  I was ready to take on the challenge though.  As I have been working my way through the Dewey decimal system I have found some very interesting books.  Even though they are titles geared towards children there is so much good information to be found here.  And the fact that kids LOVE to check these out is wonderful!  If you have not browsed our children’s non-fiction titles you definitely should.

I am someone who likes to learn a little bit while I read.  Before I started working at the library I read mainly historical fiction.  I love learning about the history of people and places.  Deborah Harkness’s newest book, Time’s Convert, is my latest historical fiction but with a fantasy twist.

*May contain spoilers if you have not read the All Souls Trilogy!*

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

First line: On her last night as a warmblood, Phoebe Taylor had been a good daughter.

 Summary: In continuation of her best-selling series, Deborah Harkness takes us on an adventure spanning from the American Revolution to modern day as we follow the early days of vampires, Phoebe Taylor and Marcus MacNeil.  Marcus grew up in time of great change.  He saw the birth of a new country but when he meets Matthew de Claremont on the fields of battle his life was changed forever.  Phoebe, an art dealer and Marcus’s fiancé, has made the decision to become a vampire.  In the early days after her rebirth, she learns that her journey to immortality is not any easier than it was for Marcus.

 Highlights: I love Harkness and her writing.  It is immediately engaging.  I read the All Souls Trilogy several years ago which made the details of the story a little fuzzy.  However, as I started this newest installment she gave tidbits that helped me remember more of the previous novels storyline.  I was worried that in this new book I would not get to revisit characters like Matthew and Diana because the story focused on Marcus and Phoebe but Harkness must have known I would always want more of them.  She alternates her chapters between the characters and plot lines.  We jump from eighteenth century to the twenty-first and back again.

I have been fascinated with the American Revolution since middle school.  I was pleased that Marcus’s story took us back to the American colonies and the fight for liberty.  I enjoyed reading as Marcus met famous people of the time including the Marquis de Lafayette.  After seeing Harkness at a Watermark event a few years back, I learned that her focus of study is on the history of science.  It really comes through during this time when Marcus, as well as the nation, is dealing with a small pox epidemic.  The history of inoculations for the disease was fascinating and fit perfectly into the story.  I am so glad that small pox is not something that we have to worry about now because it looks truly frightening!

Phoebe is a character that I vaguely remember from the trilogy but I cannot say that I felt too strongly about her.  In this book, she has a fascinating story.  I loved seeing her progress as she fought her urges and dealt with the new strengths.  Her first night out in the world interesting.  In addition, her preference for the blood of middle-aged white women definitely made me laugh aloud!

Matthew and Diana’s twins were probably my favorite part of the story.  Each of them have their own traits from both their mother and father.  Watching their parents try to figure out how to deal with a daughter who drinks blood and son who can weave spells was entertaining.  I do not want to give too much away but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 Lowlights: I wish I could get more Gallowglass!  He makes a few appearances but not enough for me.  Maybe the next book?!  Please Deborah!!

 FYI: Lots of blood, violence, magic and some sexual situations.

*I do not think it is a must but I would recommend reading her All Souls Trilogy, starting with A Discovery of Witches before picking this one up.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Haunting of Hill House

I have decided to do something different with my weekly blog post.  Rather than just a book review, I am going to tell you about what I am reading, watching and loving or not loving this week.  There is so much here at the library to enjoy and I want to share it with you!

I have been struggling to find something to read that completely captures me.  I go through one or two of these slumps every year when I am anticipating the next in a series or on a book hangover from a great novel.  I have tried several books lately and just had to put them back on the shelf.  Does this happen to you?  Any recommendations?  Please!

I just recently finished reading The Haunting of Hill House.  I have loved the fall weather so I figured creepy books were in order.  In addition, this will soon be a series on Netflix!

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

First line: No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

Summary: Hill House, a place that the locals will not go near, is going to be the home of four strangers for the summer. They believe they are going to encounter a few bumps in the night but the house has something even more sinister in mind.

Highlights: I was pleasantly surprised by this tiny novel. I remember seeing the movie (starring Catherine Zeta-Jones) years ago but I could not remember the details. For a tale of haunting it is a very slow burn. The chills come from the atmosphere of the story. An old house in the middle of nowhere with a dark and deadly past. It has many rooms and doors that will not stay open. As the doctor described the house and its construction, it reminded me of the Winchester Mystery House in California.

All of our characters have their own reasons for being there but Eleanor is the one we mainly focus on. Eleanor slowly becomes susceptible to the darkness of Hill House. As the reader, we see her changing moods and thoughts as the narrative progresses. Being inside her head made me nervous for our other characters.

I was a little surprised by the ending.  It was very abrupt but also satisfying.  I was not disappointed.  I had to stop and think for a minute about how I felt.  I would say that this is a marker of a good book.  It makes the reader think and was enjoyable at the same time.

Lowlights: The “witty banter” between the occupants of Hill House started to drive me a little nuts. I think the author was trying to lighten the mood at times with nonsense conversations but I found it annoying. I would much rather have had more insights into the characters and the history of the house.

FYI: Do not try to read this at night! Too creepy.

P.S.: Last night I watched the 1963 movie, The Haunting.  There is something about a horror movie filmed in black and white.  I kept all the lights on in the living room while watching it and I think that this was a good idea.  It was creepy and fun at the same time.  I loved the sound effects and the old house.  There were several changes from the book but for the most part it followed the story very well.  Definitely check it out!

Lit Pairings – The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Seeing an opportunity to find out what really happened to her friends all those years ago, Emma agrees.

Familiar faces, unchanged cabins, and the same dark lake haunt Nightingale, even though the camp is opening its doors for the first time since the disappearances. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, but soon discovers a security camera–the only one on the property–pointed directly at its door. Then cryptic clues that Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins begin surfacing. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing mysterious threats in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale and what really happened to those girls, the more she realizes that closure could come at a deadly price.

This was the perfect summer read! You could feel the heat and the camp atmosphere because here in Kansas we were living it! Now as we slowly edge out of summer maybe we can remissness by making some of our favorite camp food at home.

To start out your day you might want French Toast Sticks. Instead of reaching for those sad but tasty frozen ones, why not make a delicious and easy Overnight French Toast Bake that could feed a crowd? One of my favorite sleep away camp meals is Sloppy Joe’s, and this slow cooker version will sever you well no matter what the season is. Then, to finish up your camp themed day why not make Easy S’mores Bars? You may or may not decide to eat them while singing Kumbaya in front of your fireplace, and I won’t judge you for it!

What were your favorite foods at camp? Drop me a line and let me know!

Book Review: My Plain Jane

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

First line: You may think you know the story.

Summary: You may know the story of Jane Eyre but you may not know the whole story. When Jane goes to live at Thornfield Manor as a governess, she meets the brooding Mr. Rochester. She falls in love with him despite his ever-changing moods and hopes to marry him. However, her dear friend Charlotte Bronte and ghost hunter, Alexander Blackwood, have discovered that Mr. Rochester has some very dark secrets. They must save Jane and fast!

Highlights: I did not know what to expect when starting this book. I have never read Jane Eyre but I have seen several movie adaptations. I knew the basics of the story line but this was vastly different.

To start, one of the characters is the author, Charlotte Bronte. She is a small bespectacled girl with a desire to write stories. She is constantly taking notes and commenting on everything around her. Just as I would imagine she would be. Secondly, there are ghosts and lots of them. Some are just floating around, some cause trouble and others are dear friends of Jane Eyre. Lastly, this story is laugh out loud funny. There are many little remarks that made me chuckle. In addition, there were several Princess Bride references! Yes!

I think I am going to have to go pick up a copy of Jane Eyre now.

Lowlights: Having not read the original work I was not disappointed in the new version. I can see where some readers may not enjoy this because it is so different from the source material. The middle of the story was a little long and drawn out but the ending was fun and worth the read.

FYI: Also in the series is My Lady Jane about Lady Jane Grey.

Book Review: Still Star-Crossed

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub

First line: In Fair Verona’s streets, the sun was hot.

Summary: Weeks after the tragic deaths of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, the city of Verona is deep in grief. The city seeks someone to blame and with tensions so high, Prince Escalus must do something to re-build trust and ignite hope. He turns to Juliet’s cousin (and Romeo’s first love), Rosaline, and Romeo’s kinsman, Benvolio, for help. By bringing these two together in matrimony and uniting the houses, Escalus believes the city of Verona will finally find peace. The only problem is that Rosaline and Benvolio can’t stand the sight of each other and blame the other for their loved one’s death. Set against Shakespeare’s brilliant backdrop and filled with infatuation, betrayal, and death, Still Star-Crossed answers the question we all have once the curtain closes on Romeo and Juliet’s story; what happens next?

Here I made this for you. ‘Twas finished weeks ago. I should have known better than to expect your attentions when you had no further need of me.” She thrust a scrap of cloth at him. “Here.”
He took it. It was a handkerchief, embroidered with the Montague crest. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Go choke on it.”

Highlights: This book is a must for any Shakespeare lover. Taub’s writing mirrors all the good points of Shakespearean language while still making it feel accessible. Our main characters, Rosaline and Benvolio, are exquisite. Rift with prejudice, flaws, and despairing grief, they feel so human and relatable while still capturing the reader’s attention with their gentleness. The betrayals in this story are also incredibly tantalizing as are the villains. Melinda Taub makes Shakespeare’s city of Verona feel so real. She includes little details (some of them references to other plays), and it’s fun to see Romeo and Juliet come to life in a new way.

Lowlights: Obviously if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare or Shakespearean dialogue, this might be a difficult read for you. Also, the betrayal in this story, while believable, was not particularly clever. I figured out who the traitors were about mid-way through. The story does also slow down a little in the middle of the book, and Rosaline’s affection for one particular character is annoying after a while, especially when this character betrays her trust. Overall, though, the flaws of this novel are flaws that any critic of Shakespeare would give one of his plays which shows how closely to Shakespeare Melinda Taub wrote this book.

FYI: This book was actually turned into a TV series on ABC that was executive produced by Shonda Rhimes. I haven’t watched the show yet, and it was canceled after only one season, but it might be worth checking out!

Book Review: Catwoman: Soulstealer

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

First line: The roaring crowd in the makeshift arena didn’t set her blood on fire.

Summary: Selina Kyle lives in the slums of Gotham City. In order to take care of her ailing sister she enters the underground-fighting ring of Carmine Falcone. However, when the chance for a better life for her sister comes along she takes it even if it means she has to sacrifice everything. Two years later, she returns to Gotham in order to bring her own brand of justice to the city that let her down.

Batwing, the secret identity of Luke Fox, is doing his best to keep the streets of Gotham safe for its people. When a new villain arrives and starts wreaking havoc on the city, he realizes that he may have met his match in Catwoman.

Highlights: Sarah J. Maas is one of my favorite young adult authors. She writes great stories with interesting characters and lots of action. I have never been a big fan of Catwoman (other than in the show Gotham) but since Maas was writing her story, I decided to give her a try. I am glad I did.

We get a backstory for Selina that helps flesh out her character and give her a reason for her villainy. This is one of the reasons I have enjoyed the TV show Gotham because we get to see how our villains came to be. I loved the inclusion of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as her sidekicks/cohorts. Their brand of chaos and camaraderie was fun to read.

I had never heard of Batwing and therefore had to Google his character. Even though I have seen most of the movies and TV shows in the DC universe there is still so much I do not know. I am slowly wanting to pick up some of the graphic novels and comic books here at the library and get to know the stories better. I am looking forward to the next in the DC Icons series, Superman: Dawnbreaker, coming out in March 2019.

Lowlights: I wish we could have gotten more of the Joker. He is mentioned several times and Selina met him once. He is such an iconic DC villain and with Harley in the story, it would make sense. But maybe one day we will get a Joker book?!

FYI: If you like this try Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo and Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu.

Go to Hogwarts and Read!

Most muggle students are in the thick of their first month of school, but I have recently been facing an academic feat of my own; taking my O.W.L.s. That’s right! I have been taking my Ordinary Wizarding Levels at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Well, maybe not actually taking them, but I’ve been participating in the Magical Read-a-thon created by Book Roast on YouTube, and it’s been both an exciting and challenging experience!

What is the Magical O.W.L.s Read-a-thon?

Here is Book Roast’s announcement video about the read-a-thon. Though the read-a-thon itself was hosted back in the spring, I’ve decided to jump into it on my own.

In a nutshell:

The Magical O.W.L.s Read-a-thon is a month-long challenge to successfully “sit and take exams” by reading a book based on each challenge inspired by a course one would take at Hogwarts.

Book Roast created this fancy Hogwarts letter which explains what each course’s challenge is and the grading score. To pass one’s O.W.L.s, a reader must complete five books from five different subjects (no doubling up!), but a reader could potentially finish 12 books if they so desired.

My Experience

In classic Hermione fashion, I set out to complete all 12 O.W.Ls for this challenge. I went through each subject and chose a book then created my own very official exam schedule to keep track of each challenge.

My exams started on August 5 and I have until September 5 to finish.  I’ve earned an O or Outstanding Score on my O.W.Ls after having finished eight books, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to meet my final goal of 12. The biggest challenge I found with this read-a-thon was actually locating books that met both the criteria of the course and my own personal criteria (currently interested, already on my TBR, and under 300 pages). I’ve also had to change the book that I chose a number of times because it either wasn’t a captivating read or I lost interest in reading the book in the first place. Overall, though, this challenge has been so much fun and is such a creative way to get some reading in.

If you are interesting in taking your O.W.Ls then go for it! Print off the course descriptions from Book Roast’s letter, choose your books, set a month-long beginning and end date, maybe design an official Hogwarts exam schedule of your own, and get to reading. If you manage to get through your O.W.Ls, then you can join me in taking the N.E.W.Ts

…but that’s for another blog post!!

Book Review: Sea Witch

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

First line: Two small pairs of boots echoed on the afternoon cobblestones—one pair in a sprint, the other in a stumble and slide.

Summary: We all know the story of the little mermaid who falls in love with a prince but what we do not know is what happened before. After the disappearance of her friend, Evie continues to blame herself. However, when a young girl suddenly appears in their city who has a striking resemblance to Anna, Evie believes that miracles do come true. This stranger though has a few secrets. She must gain the love of the prince within four days or disappear into the ocean forever.

Highlights: The cover art is stunning with its mysterious purple eyed witch. I did not even have to read the synopsis before I knew that I wanted to read this. I loved watching The Little Mermaid growing up! My cousins and I would pretend to be mermaids while swimming at the pool. The sea witch was always very creepy and now we get her back-story! The history of the country and its culture was very interesting. The reliance on fishing and the sea is something I am not familiar with (being from Kansas). My favorite part was the flashbacks to when Anna went missing in the sea. It gave us a look at who our characters are and what drives them.

The sea is a fickle witch.”

Lowlights: There are some dark elements to the story but they do not appear until the end of the story. I expected a little bit more since we were getting the back-story of a villain. And the narrative was very much young adult. They are teenagers who are worried about falling in love. Ok, great. But I want more sea witch!

FYI: This is a debut novel for Kansas author, Sarah Henning!

Book Review: Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

First line: Serina Tessaro stood on the steps of the fountain in Lanos’s central piazza flanked by nine other girls her age, all in their finest gowns.

Summary: In Viridia girls are not allowed to read, they must be subservient and bend to the will of men. When sisters, Serina and Nomi, are sent to the palace with a chance of being a Grace and her handmaiden, Serina sees this as a chance to take care of her family. However, when the Heir chooses her younger rebellious sister, Nomi, as a Grace instead, their worlds are changed forever. When Nomi breaks the rules, being able to read, and her sister is the one who takes the blame and is sent to the women’s prison on the isolated island of Mountain Ruin. Nomi has to learn to be a Grace while living under the roof of the Superior while Serina is forced to fight for survival.

Highlights: I found this very enjoyable. I would classify it as a dystopian novel. Going into it, I thought there would be an element of fantasy to it. To tell the truth I was fine without it. It was good straightforward story. I liked the relationship between the two sisters. They truly care about each other and are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the other one. So many stories are centered on romance but this was sisterly love. Each sister had their own strengths that sets them apart. The action was well done. Not overly gruesome or gory. The cover art is beautiful. I enjoyed the supporting characters such as Maris, Malachi and Jacana. I am hoping that we get to see more of them as the story goes on. I raced through the ending. It was fast and gave a cliffhanger that leaves me wanting more!

Lowlights: Several plot lines were predictable. There were similarities between other books of this genre. Even with the similarities, I did not feel like I was reading a rewrite of another novel.

FYI: Perfect for readers of The Selection by Kiera Cass and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.

Lit Pairings – The Dying of the Light by Robert Goolrick

Diana Cooke was “born with the century” and came of age just after World War I. The daughter of Virginia gentry, she knew early that her parents had only one asset, besides her famous beauty: their stately house, Saratoga, the largest in the commonwealth, which has hosted the crème of society and Hollywood royalty. Though they are land-rich, the Cookes do not have the means to sustain the estate. Without a wealthy husband, Diana will lose the mansion that has been the heart and soul of her family for five generations.

The mysterious Captain Copperton is an outsider with no bloodline but plenty of cash. Seeing the ravishing nineteen-year-old Diana for the first time, he’s determined to have her. Diana knows that marrying him would make the Cookes solvent and ensure that Saratoga will always be theirs. Yet Copperton is cruel as well as vulgar; while she admires his money, she cannot abide him. Carrying the weight of Saratoga and generations of Cookes on her shoulders, she ultimately succumbs to duty, sacrificing everything, including love.

Luckily for Diana, fate intervenes. Her union with Copperton is brief and gives her a son she adores. But when her handsome, charming Ashton, now grown, returns to Saratoga with his college roommate, the real scandal and tragedy begins.

Let me start by saying I’ve read and loved all of Goolrick’s books. He has a way of writing human nature and tragedy like no one else. While reading I become consumed and often find myself flipping to the authors picture in the back of the book and wondering how such a kind faced man came up with such heartbreaking stories.

As you can image a book set in Virginia must have some amazing food. Every scene that included a meal had be drooling and running for my kitchen to try to find something, anything that would sate my appetite. There were traditional southern favorites like Paper Bag Fried Chicken  and Ham Biscuits but there were also unknown (at least to me) mentions of Sally Lunn  , a bread that’s similar to brioche and Sugar Toads, a type of puffer fish that is apparently crazy tasty.

If you make any of these recipes or especially if you find Sugar Toads, drop me a note and let me know how delicious it all was!