The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Everything I’ve read by Neal Gaiman lately has been fabulous and The Graveyard Book was no exception. His latest work has that wonderful mix of elements – love, loss, humor, fear and above all, that understated quality of things left unsaid that is just SO compelling.

We first meet young Bod (short for Nobody Owens) the night his parents were killed. Toddling about with his family’s killer hot on his trail, Bod happens across a local graveyard where a couple of ghosts decide to raise him as their own with the aid of the mysterious Silas who becomes his guardian.

So Nobody Owens is raised in a graveyard and like any little boy must learn through school and his mistakes and as readers we are witnesses to both. More often than not, Bod’s mistakes are quite serious and require some major rescuing by various graveyard inhabitants in order to fix. Each instance brings new information, skills and truths to light while morals are discovered and friends are made without being sugar-sweet or forced upon the reader. His formal education is overseen by various ghosts who recount firsthand life in times long past which give Bod a unique understanding of history but provide little help in dealing with the technology or challenges of the present day.

Perhaps it is because he was raised by ghosts but Bod is fearless and fearless kids are always wonderful to read about. They have an innate understanding that the whole world is completely open to them to do or be anything they want. Bod embodies this spirit of discovery and I am so glad a book such as this won the Newbery Award. I hope it will encourage children to venture out into the world to make mistakes, love others, learn new things and above all experience every bit of life they can.

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Kate Daniels is back and she's better than ever. No, really, I mean it. What to know why?

While investigating a crime, Kate stumbles across a street urchin who has lost her mother. The mom had been part of a coven trying to raise a Celtic god to give them more power but that plan sort of backfired and they ended up releasing another power bent on complete destruction. What makes it worse is that Atlanta is currently caught in the middle of a magic flare - a time every few years that magic runs rampant and intensifies. So, releasing bad gods in highly magic time = bad news. Add in the fact that the local Pack has had a very valuable set of maps stolen and we've got ourselves a rockin' good time.

Now onto the good stuff: Kate really shows her mettle in this installment. She willingly takes in a young girl even as she proclaims she's not really the mothering type, more the 'cool aunt' type. What's more she expresses her humanity that almost surprised me in her willingness to save one girl from evil that might end up slaughtering hundreds of people in the process. Her explanations to Bran on the subject were most enlightening.

I'm not usually one for battle scenes but the big fight scene in this book truly caught my attention. Kate is powerful and no one really understands how much. Maybe becuase the battle was told from her point of view or maybe it was because she totally kicked-butt and wasn't sorry about it in the least. I'm not sure, but I liked seeing a woman who could bring an entire hoard of bad guys to their knees (literally). I felt so much more connected to all the characters in this one and can't wait for more.

reading order:
~ Magic Bites
~ Magic Burns
~ Magic Strikes

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

After the death of her father, Charlotte Miller and her sister are the last in a long line of Millers who have run Stirwaters Mill – a mill rumored to be cursed. Though unusual for a young woman to operate a mill in pre-Industrial Revolution England, hardworking Charlotte feels inexplicably linked to the mill and it’s workers who depend upon Stirwaters for their livelihood.

After a string of almost devastatingly bad luck (which Charlotte will never believe is part of an generations-old curse), she finds herself at the mercy of a strange man named Jack Spinner who only asks for trinkets as payment. But Jack’s requests grow steeper and more calculated each time Charlotte must turn to him in desperation. Feeling the weight of responsibility for the families in Shearing, Charlotte will do anything to save the mill that has become almost a part of herself and those she loves.

Bunce’s prose is beautiful – a sense of sinister foreboding is felt with each groan and turn of the mill wheel, intensifying with each mysterious revelation. Charlotte is inspiring as she tackles each new setback with a stubbornness and love of the mill which continually draw others to her as she slowly unravels the mystery surrounding Stirwaters. Most importantly, Bunce convincingly fills in the gaps inherent in the original story of Rumpelstiltskin – what does make a name so powerful and in what circumstances would the Miller’s daughter ever give up her only son?

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

After living in England for the past twenty years or so, Bill Bryson, funny man and travel writer, has decided to move his family to the land of mega shopping centers, hamburgers the size of babies’ heads and wide open spaces – AKA: America. As a grand farewell and sort of tribute to this beloved country, Bryson begins a several month-long trek through his beloved home one last time. Starting at Dover and winding his way through cities and villages large and small, Bryson tracks his way up to the northern reaches of Scotland by way of railway, foot, and car. We are treated to Bryson’s musings every step of the way on all things English – including some of my favorites: the British ability to queue, their ability to get enjoyment out of unspectacular food, and most amusing: their unfailing politeness. The best phrase to remember if you ever visit grand old England is “I’m sorry, but...” whether it is your fault or not for the inconvenience.

Really this is less a travel book than an explanation on what makes the British, well, British. Bryson softly pokes fun at the culture and people he has come to love so much and in such a way that makes them dear to your heart as well. I really wish I had read this book prior to visiting Britain – it would have been wonderful to discover some of the lesser known treasures that Bryson chanced upon himself.

I listened to this book and the reader was fantastic: perfect comedic timing – in a very British, deadpan sort of way.

Myself in Books

1. What author do you own the most books by?
Terry Brooks. I think I have almost all of his Shannara series from when I was in HS. My brother got me hooked and I still love them.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
To be honest I don't think I own more than one copy of any book... I dunno, that almost seems sad.

3. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Bridget Jones. The Hubby gets tired of me trying to read him passages which I can't finish becuase I'm laughing too hard.

4. What book have you read more than any other?
Winnie the Pooh or the House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne. Every few years or so the Hubby and I read these aloud to each other and just crack up.

5. What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare. My copy is literally falling apart. Whenever someone asks me one place I want to travel to I still say the Barbados because I want to swim in that blue ocean Kit so lovingly describes.

6. What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
Ruby by Francesca Lia Block. Just weird.

7. What is the best book you've read in the past year?
You want what??! Well, I really liked A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson (I just love her name), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Lots more. Lots.

8. If you could tell everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Actually, just read anything by Steinbeck and your life will be better.

9. What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Beloved by Toni Morrison. I didn't understand the half of it cause I was a naive teenager.

10. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
RUSSIANS! How anyone can create such beauty out of such misery is always fascinating.

11. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Definitely Shakespeare.

12. Austen or Eliot?
Austen. Austen. Austen. All I have to say is: Austen.

13. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Probably poetry. Also, this is sad but the Odyssey and the Illiad. I know.

14. What is your favorite novel?
To name JUST a few: Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

15. What is your favorite play?
Much Ado About Nothing. What I wouldn't give to be able to come up with one-liners like Beatrice.

16. What is your favorite poem?
Eek. I think this is my most embarrassing gap. I do like some Elizabeth Barrett Browning though...

17. What is your favorite essay?
Ain't I a Woman? By Sojourner Truth

18. What is your favorite short story?
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

19. What is your favorite non-fiction?
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

20. What is your favorite graphic novel?
Haven't really picked up on this genre.

21. What is your favorite science fiction?
I like a lot of the doomsday type books: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, 1984 by George Orwell. If it's dystopian, I'll probally love it.

22. Who is your favorite writer?
Ooohh. I really don't have a favorite but I'll read anything by Robin McKinley or Jane Austen

23. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
I'll probably get kicked for it but I'll go with Stephen King

24. What are you reading right now?
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce. Even though I know it's a Rumpelstiltskin retelling, I'm on the edge of my seat.

25. Best memoir?
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

26. Best history?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

27. Best mystery or noir?
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Classicly wonderful.

And you? What books best describe you?

Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn

The fourth book in the Twelfth Houses series focuses on the lovable yet quirky reader Cammon. With his unique (and very helpful) ability of being able to sense the emotions of others, Cammon has become an invaluable asset to the monarchy. Charged with discerning the true intentions of Princess Amalie's suitors, Cammon continually proves his worth and loyalty to those he loves.

However, all is not well in the Twelve Houses as war is imminent. When an audacious attack on the royal city is made everything changes and those in service to the king are forced to face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Senneth, the amazing lady she is, truly proves her strength as she rounds up mystics to help fight for the king and continues to be one of the most valuable assets with her smarts and ability to call fire. Unable to accept defeat, she willing does whatever is necessary in order to keep the throne out of the hands of Halchon Gisseltess and his supporters.

Reader and Raelynx just might have edged out Mystic and Rider for my favorite spot in this series -- it completely rocked. I almost felt the last book could have been condensed into an addendum to this one as it basically sets up everything that happens here. Shinn's masterful world-building is one of the biggest draws of this story. The politics of Gillengaria are fascinating with it's varying degrees of aristocracy and prejudices. Her treatment of mystics -- where their power comes from, how they are treated and the fact that they can't work magic on anyone outside of Gillengaria -- is just fascinating. This particular volume tied together many of the previous storylines and I am so happy to see there is one more book in this wonderful series to come.

reading order:
~ Mystic and Rider
~ The Thirteenth House
~ Dark Moon Defender
~ Reader and Raelynx
~ Fortune and Fate

Fade by Lisa McMann

I had a hard time bringing myself to start this book. Mainly because I knew Janie and Cabel would be investigating some teachers suspected of being sexual predators. I had an even harder time knowing that Janie was going to act as 'bait.' And I knew McMann would write it so compelling that I'd probably get so emotionally pulled into the story that I would be thinking about it for days.

And I was right. McMann doesn't sugar-coat the hard details but she doesn't go into the nitty-grittys either. It's a fine balance of describing a scene while letting the reader come to their own conclusions. And of course I was so drawn into the emotional turmoil as Janie finds out more about her 'gift' and as Cabel struggles with her role in the bust.

I liked this one better than I had originally anticipated since McMann didn't force the characters into a 'happily ever after.' Janie and Cabel both have their issues to deal with but both are definitely growing as individuals.

So, I liked this one. Even though it was darker and more mature and almost heartbreaking at times. Definitely would only recommend it to the mature crowd.

reading order:
~ Wake
~ Fade