Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
First line: The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.
Summary: When Miryem takes over her father’s money lending business she excels at it. She has a talent for making silver into gold. Slowly bringing her family out of poverty, she garners a reputation but it may not be as all she thought it would be. She draws the attention of the Staryk king, a creature of ice and cold who preys on the people of Vysnia.
Highlights: This book is beautiful! It has classic fairy tale themes, Rumpelstiltskin, and the feeling of a Russian folktale. I wish that I had read this in the dead of winter because it is very atmospheric. The story is dark and rich. So much detail and story is packed into it that it takes a while to digest. This is not a summery beach read but one that needs to be savored.
There are at least six points of view throughout the plot and each character has a symbol to represent them. It is a nice touch to separate the narratives. Each character brings their own voice and thoughts to the story. Miryem is the moneylender’s daughter who is stolen away by the Staryk king. Wanda, the servant girl, gives us a peak into the prejudices of the village folk but also the wonder of girl who has been given a chance to better herself. Her younger brother, Stepon, is the innocent who watches and does not completely understand what is happening around him. Irina, the daughter of a duke, has been forgotten and neglected until her father hatches a plan to ensnare the Tsar and therefore putting her in danger. The young tsar, Mirnatius, has a dark secret. And finally Magreta, the nurse who raised Irina and is determined to keep her young charge safe.
With so many plot lines intertwining you would think it would get confusing but it does not. They all come together and conclude the story. The last few chapters are fast paced and the perfect way to end. Be prepared to spend time with these characters in this world. It is a hearty read but worth it.
The Staryk was a tale for a winter’s night.
Lowlights: I love the detail of the story and the characters. Every few chapters though felt a little longer than they needed to be. I am a fan of short chapters so when one stretched on for 50+ pages it took me a little longer to get through.
FYI: Read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It is fantastic! It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which is my favorite fairy tale.
I have a miniature dachshund named Winston. He HATES fireworks. In the last few years, I have learned some tricks to help him deal with the holiday. One of my favorite traditions now is a movie marathon with lots of action to drown out the booms. This year we watched The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogies. Watching these movies took me back to childhood.
One of my earliest memories is being read to every night by my dad. One of the books that stands out the most is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember him checking out an illustrated copy from our local library. It felt so special having him read when we knew he was tired. He worked in Wichita and had an hour commute every day to and from work with a 4 a.m. alarm. I loved the story of Bilbo Baggins and the company of Thorin Oakenshield. My favorite scene is and always will be the chapter, Riddles in the Dark, where Bilbo meets and outwits Gollum. I was always a little worried for Bilbo. Answer the riddle or be eaten?! How scary. Followed by giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood. (Why is there always giant spiders?) Then when they reach the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo has to face the dragon, Smaug. This book gets better and better. But I still remember being saddened at the end with the death of Thorin. I still am sad about it actually.
When I was in high school, my dad and I went to see the first of the Lord of the Rings movies. I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of this movie. It was visually stunning with an amazing cast and a great story. I had never read the LOTR books but I did remember the story, The Hobbit. I immediately had to buy the trilogy and start reading. I LOVED them. The detail that Tolkien puts in his books is beautiful and complex. The following years, I went to see The Two Towers and The Return of the King and was so happy to see that Peter Jackson followed the source material so well.
Then several years later Jackson announced they were adapting The Hobbit! I was stoked. They were bringing back some of the original cast and adding new talent. Going to the theater to see the first movie was like being a kid again. Once again, the casting was amazing. Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin were both exactly what I wanted. Even though the movies veered off the story line, I felt that Jackson still gave us the feel of Tolkien.
When I happened upon an exact copy of The Hobbit that my dad read to us in a used bookstore I snatched it up immediately. I placed it in a spot of honor next to my illustrated copies of Harry Potter! There is nothing like a special book that makes us feel young again. What is your favorite book from childhood? We’d love to hear your comments!
Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir
First line: “A health to the bride!”
Summary: Jane Seymour is the daughter of knight. With aspirations of becoming a nun, she did not consider that life at court was in her future. However, when her plans to join a nunnery change she joins the household of Queen Katherine, the wife of Henry VIII. Jane is devoted to the queen so when a maid of honor, Anne Boleyn, starts to attract the king, Jane must decide where her loyalties lie. When Anne becomes queen, Jane is forced to serve her. As Anne’s power wanes the king’s eye begins to stray. Jane becomes the focus of his attention and his future queen.
Highlights: Weir’s portrayal of Jane Seymour is the best one I have read. Jane is a very boring queen. She has very little time to establish herself in history but what we know of her is that she was meek and obedient. At least this is what we assume but in The Haunted Queen we get a little bit of fire injected in to her character. She has opinions, thoughts and questions. Even though she is afraid to voice them, we as the reader get a look into her mind and see more than the quiet mouse she is remembered as.
Lowlights: I felt that more of the book was centered around Anne Boleyn (who is my favorite of Henry’s wives). We see the events unfold through Jane’s eyes but not much about Jane herself. Which leaves a small portion at the end of story to center around her time as queen.
FYI: Weir does a great job so far on each of the queens. Check out Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession to read the first two books in the series.
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
First line: This is how it begins.
Summary: When Emma Davis is asked to return to Camp Nightingale it brings many memories and fears to mind. One summer, fifteen years before, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale and the three girls from her cabin all disappeared. Now as an artist on the rise, she continues to paint the missing girls Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Maybe going back will help Emma get past her demons and find out what truly happened to the girls of Dogwood cabin.
“I want to go inside, look around, see what memories it dredges up. That’s why I’m here, after all. Yet when I twist the doorknob, I realize my hand is shaking. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Ghosts, I suppose.”
Highlights: Sager’s latest novel is one of nostalgia for me. Having attended a summer camp near a large lake and cabins with no AC, this brought back many memories for me. The uncomfortable nights where everything is hot and sticky, canoeing on the lake, campfires and crafts. My sister, my cousins and I attended Quaker Haven Camp in Northern Indiana for two summers. We loved every minute of it. We made friends, crafts and memories. Even at church camp, you hear the stories of some creepy man that stalks the woods or a ghost that kidnaps children. This is what summer was as a kid at camp.
I could picture Camp Nightingale as clear as day. As Emma looks deeper into the events of fifteen years before she slowly reveals more memories that she has kept hidden. The author leads us in many different directions to keep us guessing. I loved the mystery of the lake. With each new tidbit, I was even more intrigued.
The ending was not what I expected. It wrapped up, we got the mystery solved but then…that ending! Holy cow! My chest was tight. My heart was pounding. I had to set the book down and breathe after the last page. The fact that Sager once again got a five star review from me is astounding. I cannot wait for his next book.
Lowlights: The only downfall was that I could not be reading this in a lawn chair on the shores of Dewart Lake in Indiana. That would have made this perfect.
FYI: This is the perfect book to take on a weekend trip to the lake!
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
First line: Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.
Summary: When the Bright family, Thomas, Pauline and their three daughters, decide that they are going to move to Philadelphia they believe that it will be a new start away from the sorrow of the last few months. Thomas is apprenticing his uncle’s mortuary business. This seems a strange place to bring a family after the loss of their infant son and brother but for Pauline it helps her heal and understand death better. But suddenly the war and the Spanish Flu descend on the family. They have to deal with more than they ever expected.
Highlights: Susan Meissner can write beautiful stories rich with historical detail and human emotion. Her characters are always amazing and deep. It was a very fitting time to read about the flu after the strong strain that hit the U.S. this year. It is also the 100th anniversary of the epidemic. I liked the love stories and the history.
“She says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible. Without it, nothing matters.”
Of course I had to search Newspapers.com (using the link on our library website) to see how Wichita reported the events of the time. It seemed that the who country shut down to help protect civilians from the dreaded flu that was wiping out millions of people.
Lowlights: I felt like the narratives of Pauline and Willa were not completely necessary. They did not provide too much to the story. The story could have been shortened by 50 pages or so. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages to see how the characters and story wrapped up.
FYI: I loved her book, The Secrets of a Charmed Life, which is set during the Blitz in London during World War II.
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
First line: The magpies are back.
Summary: When Harriet Westaway receives a letter from a lawyer she is confused by its contents. It is informing her that her grandmother has died and that her presence is needed at the reading of the will. Harriet has never met her grandmother. She never even knew she had one. Maybe they got the wrong person. Nevertheless, with a loan shark hounding her for money and bills piling up she decides to see what is behind this letter. Upon arriving at Trepassen she meets the rest of her “family”. Can she deceive these people and take their money? On the other hand, is there more here than she thought?
Highlights: This is by far Ruth Ware’s best novel. It took me a while to read but not from lack of interest. I liked Harriet. She is a young girl in an impossible situation. She does the best she can to take care of herself in an uncertain world. I really enjoyed the diary entries that give the reader a peak into the past and snippets of facts pertaining to the mystery. I kept coming up with new scenarios and answers. Ware did a great job setting up each little twist and turn. In addition, I was truly a little frightened by Mrs. Warren. She was always there with some dark comment or ominous look.
I didn’t mean you—I just meant—well, look, Mrs. Warren’s always had a touch of the Mrs. Danvers about her.
Lowlights: The loan sharks were the driving force to get the story started but then the threat disappeared as the plot progressed. I understand that they were just a starting point for why Hal decided to impersonate the Westaway heir but if it was a big part of the beginning maybe it should make an appearance at the end?
FYI: Ruth Ware is also the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game.
Calypso by David Sedaris
First line: Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age.
Summary: In the newest book by David Sedaris we get a look into his life in England and at his beach house in North Carolina. He tells stories of his family, partner and the neighborhood fox.
Highlights: I think this is my favorite book by him. Ever since I was introduced to him, I have picked up everything I can find. He makes me laugh and think. In this book he switched from hilarious stories about having a stomach virus on a book tour to the death of his sister. It was fun and heart felt at the same time. I think we get an even deeper look into his life. He bares his family secrets and his soul. I was heartbroken when reading about the last time he saw his sister, Tiffany. I laughed until I cried when reading about the trash he picks up along the road near his home. The stories of his parents were so sad. It takes a lot of courage to write these things. And David does it so well. I cannot wait to see him at a local book signing. I am going to completely fan-girl over him!
FYI: He is going to be at Watermark Books in Wichita on June 20th!!!
Legendary by Stephanie Garber
*This is book 2 in a series! May contain spoilers. Check out my review of Caraval on our blog as well.*
First line: While some rooms on the estate had monsters hiding beneath the beds, Tella swore her mother’s suite concealed enchantment.
Summary: At the end of Caraval it appears that Scarlett and Tella are now safe from their evil father. But this is far from the truth. Tella is entangled in a bargain with a mysterious friend. This friend plans to help Tella find her mother, who disappeared years before, but it comes at a price. Tella must find out the Legend’s real name. However, the truth could bring about the end of Caraval and Legend himself.
Highlights: Once again I cannot help but rave about the beautiful cover! But the language and story make it even more wonderful. I was a little weary about reading Tella’s story when in the previous novel she was a minor character that caused much of Scarlett’s troubles. However, I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed this book than the first one. Tella is a tough girl who does not think that love is anything she is destined to experience. This is quite a change from many YA novels where the girl only wants to find love. She is smart and tricky. She is not scared to get her hands dirty.
I loved the Fates! So creepy and detailed. I was truly terrified of the Undead Queen and her Handmaidens but not more than the Prince of Hearts. Everything about him makes my skin crawl. The addition of these supernatural beings expands and makes the story even more elaborate than Caraval.
That ending! Throughout the story, we follow Tella as she tries to figure out what is real and what is not. I felt like I was slowly going mad along with her trying to piece together all the clues. As we reached the last few pages, I kept wondering if we were going to get another book and we certainly will! I wonder if it will follow Tella some more or expand on another minor character. Either way I am in!
Lowlights: That I have to wait a year for the next book!
FYI: Book 2 in the Caraval series.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
First line: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.
Summary: Roy and Celestial are newlyweds. They are happy until one night Roy is arrested for a crime that he did not commit. He is sentenced to a twelve-year sentence. Celestial tries to hold onto the love for her husband but it becomes harder as the years pass by. She takes solace in her friend and the best man at their wedding, Andre. However, Roy is released after five years and plans to return to his life and his wife. Can they go back to the people they were before?
Highlights: This book is one that is relevant. It is a contemporary story about a couple who has to deal with odds that are out of their control. I enjoyed the correspondence between Celestial and Roy while he is in jail. It gives us an insight into the challenges of a couple who are separated by incarceration.
Lowlights: I felt like the climax (when Roy is released) was not as exciting or intriguing as I wanted it to be. I thought there would be more conflict.
FYI: Language and some adult content.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
First line: Varya is thirteen.
Summary: Four siblings sneak out one night to find a local gypsy woman who is said to be able to tell their futures including their date of death. With these revelations, the siblings begin to live their lives with the knowledge hanging over them. Their stories span over fifty years from San Francisco to Las Vegas. The introduction of the AIDS virus to the war in Iraq. This story shows how knowledge of the future can shape our lives.
Highlights: I really enjoyed Simon’s story. I think he was my favorite character. I was sad when his story was over. However, the plotline for the book was very intriguing. Would I want to know when my death date was? I cannot imagine that I would. It would bring dread as each day passed. On the other hand, would this give me reason to enjoy each day? The author really gives the reader lots to think about while reading. A good author can do this and Chloe Benjamin did a great job.
Lowlights: Simon and Klara were the characters that kept my attention. However, I felt that the story slowed after that. Especially with Varya’s story. Varya had to deal with the loss of each of her siblings and wrapping the story up. I felt like she deserved more. There was a little twist for her but it was not as big as I would have hoped for.
FYI: There is some sexual content and language.