Can She Do it? Tournament of Books 2016

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This is my first foray into the rabble and ruckus that is Tournament of Books. I’ve heard it’s loads of fun, so I’m going to do my best to read all of the books on the short list. I’m going into each book with an open mind, and I’m not going to be afraid of setting books aside if I’m just not feeling it. I’m also trying to (finally) finish up my thesis paper this month, too, so I am going to have a busy February. Here’s where I am so far

      • The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz – awaiting hold from library
      • The Sellout by Paul Beatty – currently reading
      • Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
      • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy- saved in my TOB16 library list
      • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – read, review pending (because I’m slow…)
      • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf- checked out from library
      • Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
      • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
      • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra – listened
      • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen- checked out from library
      • The Whites by Richard Price- checked out from library
      • Oreo by Fran Ross
      • The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard– read
      • The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak- currently reading
      • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara- awaiting hold from library

Play-In Round

      • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving- saved in my TOB16 library list
      • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler- checked out from library

I’m trying to do as much of this as I can by utilizing the library. I’m also using this time to demo some different audio and e-book subscription services (basically, do it for free 🙂 ). I plan to at least provide mini-reviews of each book, so make sure to check back as we get closer to the tournament start date!

Alright, readers, who’s with me? Are you ready for TOB 16?!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Published by Sourcebooks on January 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Humorous
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars
The International Bestseller #1 Indie Next Great Reads January 2016 #2 LibraryReads January 2016 Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen...Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor -- not much else to do in a small town that's almost beyond repair. They just never imagined that she'd start a bookstore. Or that books could bring them together and change everything.There's a book for every person ... and a person for every book.

Imagine you’ve travelled thousands of miles to meet your pen pal… and arrive to find she’s just passed away. That’s what happened to Sara, yet instead of running home straight away, she turned what seemed to be a dreadful experience into rather an adventure.

Central to the story is the opening of Sara’s bookshop in the little Iowa farm town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. Her shop is exactly the kind of dream bookstore I’d love to run. I love the tenacity and perseverance she shows in proving that there is a book out there for everyone (a point on which she and I heartily agree)!

In opening the shop, Sara discovers a newfound sense of belonging that she’d yet to find on her past endeavors, and this seems to produce a ripple effect in the town–the people of Broken Wheel appeared to be developing their own senses: of self, purpose, conscience, etc.

There was a strong presence of Jane Austen throughout the story; her books are mentioned several times, and Sara even finds herself relating to Pride and Prejudice at one point. I would go further to say that the author styled some of her characters after those from Austen’s own work, most notably Tom, who seemed to have a taciturn disposition not unlike Mr. Darcy, and perhaps there was a little bit of Emma Woodhouse in the pesky councilwoman, Jen.

Although the reader never gets to directly meet Amy, her letters to Sara are interspersed throughout the story. Through these letters we discover a charming person who loves books as much as she loves her hometown, and it’s easy to understand what propelled Sara towards her American adventure. The letters also introduce us to characters in the same way Sara was, so that we are on equal footing with her when she starts meeting Amy’s friends and family. This was one of my favorite parts of book book. And it makes me miss pen pals.

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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend can be best described as a sweet story, one that begs you to plop into a comfy chair with a mug of cocoa (or in a beach chair, if the weather is warmer). It was also full of references to other books, often prompting me to add books to my TBR list.

Magical Mondays: Books from Hogwarts

by JK Rowling, Kenniworthy Whisp, Newt Scamander
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Source: West Florida Public Library

I’m still coming down from my recent #Potterbinge. In the last few months of 2015, I listened to the entire Harry Potter series narrated by Stephen Fry. I know I’m repeating myself, but it was glorious, and everyone should listen to his version! Between falling down the Wizarding World rabbit hole whilst Potter-binging and the news surrounding the upcoming Fantastics Beast and Where to Find Them film, I decided it was finally time to delve into the three books published for Muggles after the the series concluded. These books were absolutely adorable and a lot of fun to read.

41899Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

This is a reprint of the textbook used by Harry Potter for his Care of Magical Creatures class. Not only does it provide a A-Z overview of the various magical creatures, the introduction explains some of the history behind what constitutes a “beast,” and magizoology. Also, because this is Harry’s book, the Muggle reader sees his (and Ron’s) annotations as well.

I really liked the content of this book. I read this while listening to one of the Harry Potter books (can’t recall which), and I found I was already familiar with some of the creatures the students were studying, such as bowtruckles. Unfortunately, though, it left me wanting. For a children’s book, there’s too much text and not enough illustration. It reads like a list, and I can see how some kiddos might lose interest in a creature book without loads of creatures to look at. I have no idea whether a fully illustrated version exists (or will exist soon as the film release approaches), but that would be bloody brilliant.

111450Quidditch Through the Ages by Kenniworthy Whisp

Quidditch Through the Ages comes to us Muggles via the Hogwarts Library, and Prof. Dumbledore shares in the forward a quote from Madam Pince, the Hogwarts library, that this book is “pawed about, dribbled on, and generally maltreated” nearly every day. This book provides the developmental history of the game, the various teams around the world, and a little instruction on many in-flight manuevers.

I admit that I initially selected this book out of obligation. Hermione is my spirit witch, so it may not be surprising that I preferred reading about charms, potions, and transmutation over quidditch (don’t get me wrong – it’s still a rather nifty sport, and I would *love* to be able to play).

The only book in the Hogwarts Library that Hermione didn’t check out.

I was very pleased to find myself enjoying this book as much as I did Fantastic Beasts. I love the detail in which the history of the sport was crafted, and I enjoyed learning that there are other wizarding sports around the world. One of my favorite moments is the description of the Crudely Cannons, that their “glory day many be considered by many to be over, but their devoted fans live in hope of a renaissance” and that the league changed their motto from “We shall conquer” to “Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.” I immediately thought of the Chicago Cubs and their legion of devoted fans.

4020390The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

This is a book of wizard children stories first introduced to Muggles when Prof. Dumbledore bequethed his copy to Hermione in his will. I suppose wizarding children have their own fairy tales just like Muggle children do. The Tales of Beedle the Bard includes a selection of these stories, including “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbity Rabbitty and Her Crackling Stump,” and “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” Of these three books, this was definitely my favorite.

First, one of my favorite scenes from all of the movies is the animated telling of “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” I love that type of animation, and I feel like it’s beautifully done.

Because I am a lifelong reader, I loved (and still do love) many stories from my childhood. Being able to experience children’s stories from the Wizarding World made me a little nostalgic, yet I also got to feel the excitement of experiencing a new story. What’s more is there was commentary provided by Prof. Dumbledore, to explain the background and morals behind each story. If I ever have children, I will definitely add these stories to the myriad others of which I am so fond. (I intend to contribute to the next generation of Potterheads. 🙂 )
In short, these are three, fun, little books that any Muggle can easily enjoy! We may have never gotten our own Hogwarts letters, but at least get a little glimpse with these books.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret AtwoodThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Humorous, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
four-stars
Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.     Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.     At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.From the Hardcover edition.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that, althoughThe Handmaid’s Tale has been on my bookshelf for over ten years, it wasn’t until 2015 that I finally read my first Atwood book. Upon closing that book, I became an instant fan, and was super stoked to check out her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last. (I’m also quite embarrassed that I read this book months ago and am just now getting around to writing my review).

One of the things that enthralled me about The Handmaid’s Tale was the terrifying yet realistic landscape in which the story takes place. Nearly 30 years after its publication, I found myself thinking about how easily the world today could become Offred’s Republic of Gilead. In The Heart Goes Last, Atwood was able to recreate that sense of foreboding. I think about the world today and the issue of income inequality, and I can see the distinct possibility of one day living in the same world as Stan and Charmaine.

Something else I like about Atwood’s style is that she doesn’t fill in all the details. Atwood alludes to Char’s troubled past and Stan’s tumultuous relation with his brother, but she doesn’t spell it out for the reader. I really like that. I think this adds to the realism of such a story. In real life, we are rarely privy to all the gory details about a person. This way it feels like the reader is part of the story, existing as a member of this dystopian society, and not merely viewing it as an outsider.

While I basked in the realness of the world and its characters, the plot was a less realistic to me. I felt like Stan and Char bought into this Consilience scheme a little bit too easily. And from that point the story, the events that unfolded seemed increasingly unbelievable. Entertaining, yes, but utterly unbelievable.

There’s more I could say about this book, but I will refrain in order to avoid spoilers. I will say that after finishing the book, I found myself arguing internally about some of the goings-on in the story. Whenever this happens, I feel it is a testament to the book if it can stay in your head well after you’ve returned it to the shelf. This book definitely did that.

I definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re a Margaret Atwood fan, but also if you like stories set in in well build worlds (even if they can be a bit scary).

Also, I have definitely been added to the ranks of Atwood admirers.

 

Sunday Salon: Birthday Edition

Currently// coming down from finishing The Library at Mount Char and waiting for my next Uber rider.

Zroom zroom…

Celebrating// my birthday!

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I turned 34 29 on Tuesday of this week. I was fortunate enough to spend time with my spirit nerd, Allysia, and she was so kind to give me a copy of Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, one of her favorite books. I also got to spend time with my family, as my sister and her clan were visiting. It was a lovely day full of fresh seafood and laughs.

Watching// Star Wars: The Force Awakens… finally! I have a tradition of seeing all the Star Wars movies with my mom, going back to the re-release of the original trilogy in the 90s. With the holidays and her work schedule, it took a couple of weeks to get to the cinema. We loved it! Well done, JJ!!! This week also blessed us with new episodes of Sherlock and Downton Abbey. These are two of my favorite shows, and I’m so glad to have new episodes!

Reading// I just finished The Library of Mount Char just before sitting down to write this. That book was so Heather. It had fantastic beasts, revenge, interesting characters, and a library. What’s not to like?! Up next is The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, which is an e-book re-release coming out in a couple of weeks.

Listening// to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Both are great fun in their own ways. I love the Outlander narrator, Davina Porter, and I’m glad I chose audio over print because I don’t have to stumble over the Gaelic. And, well, Amy is just awesome. I definitely recommend her book in audio format, but I also think I may need to own a print copy one day as well.

Well, that’s about it for this week, readers? How was your week? 

Books That Made Me Buzz in 2015: A Year End Review

I can’t say I’m disappointed to be viewing 2015 in the rearview (SN: this post is late because our washing machine flooded the garage on NYE – one last “screw you” from the year….), but I will say that I had the best reading year I’ve had in a long time. I managed to read/listen to 41 books this year, which isn’t too bad considering I didn’t really start reading until May.

This year I was introduced to NetGalley and Edelweiss, and numerous book bloggers who have made me fall in love with my Twitter feed all over again and who inspire me to read books that I would once have thought were too long to try or that I wasn’t smart enough to understand. My fellow bloggers also led me back to my local library, and I’ve been darkening the local branch’s door on a weekly basis for the last few months. I’ve marked some books off my TBR, and added many more, and I am excited to be in the thick of things during Tournament of Books, embark on reading challenges, and make time everyday to read in 2016.

I’d also like to give shout-outs to my dear friends, April (The Steadfast Reader) and Monika (Lovely Bookshelf). They were the force behind starting this blog, and have been my fairy blog-mothers behind the scenes when I had issues with Blue Host or plugin difficulties. These are two fantastic women who impress be both with their copious reading as well as their remarkable daily lives. Thanks again, y’all, for tag teaming me that night in June. Much love to you both! <3

In celebration of a good year in books, I’d like to share some of my favorite reads from 2015.

Dietland – Sarai Walker

I just read this book a few weeks ago, and I’ve thought about it just about every day since I finished it. I found Plum’s journey to self love and empowerment intoxicating, and, as someone who shares her lifelong struggle with weight, I found a lot of myself in those pages.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

This book has been on my bookshelf for years. Like since I was a blushing bachlorette. Shameful. The Handmaid’s Tale is another book that has really stuck with me. I found it was terrifying, and so close to reality that it made me nervous. It’s amazing how this book is 30 years old yet extremely relevant, having heard words uttered in debates that would be better suited for the Republic of Gilead than America in 2015. That’s some scary shit, bro… Nevertheless, if you haven’t read it yet, do it. Now.

The Martian – Andy Weir (my thoughts here)

I knew I’d love this book from the first sentence: “I’m pretty much fucked.” Mark Whatney was witty and brilliant, the story was incredibly entertaining, and never failed to capture my attention.

Of Things Gone Stray – Janina Matthewson (my review)

I got this book from a book swap (thanks Monika). The characters were interestingly interwoven into a strange and fascinating story about losing things, but what I loved about this book was the writing. It was beautiful and delicious and drank in the words like honey.

Harry Potter series (audio) – JK Rowling (author); Stephen Frey (narrator)

I was first introduced to Harry Potter in 2001. At the time, the first four books were already published. I ate them like food and was an instant fan. I even got to cosplay for the Order of the Phoenix release in 2003.

2015-06-19
Me as Molly Weasley (left) with Moaning Myrtle.

The rest of the series I read when it first came out, but never managed to reread (despite it being a favorite). I started the audiobooks in September. It was intended to be exlusively driving entertainment, but then I started listening at the gym, during chores, and eventually each night as a fell asleep. Stephen Frey narrated these books with perfection. Not only did his glorious accent add an extra-special layer of Britishness to the story, his vocal characterizations were spot on.

So there it is. Bring it one, 2016! And Happy New Years, readers!!!

 

Wrong Time, Wrong Place: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Wrong Time, Wrong Place: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill CleggDid You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg
on 09/01/2015
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: West Florida Public Library
Goodreads
On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Lately, I’ve been having tremendous luck finding library books that are on my TBR list: The Shore, Dietland, Fates and Furies, A Little Life, etc… And, although I already had a little pile on my nightstand, I decided to also grab Did You Ever Have A Family off the new fiction shelf. I remembered seeing several other bloggers reading and writing about it recently and thought I would see what it’s all about. I read the dust jacket and thought it sounded a little more solemn than my usual read, but I thought I’d give it a try.

I was about 75 pages into it when I realized that now was not a good time for me to be reading this book.

These last two months have probably been the most difficult of my adult life. My husband and I are both without work, and both having difficulty securing new jobs. Fortunately, with some lifestyle changes and a little savings, we’re managing, but we are both experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety.

With my current circumstances being quite stressful and often depressing, I found it difficult to enjoy this book. It’s not that I identified with the characters or their tragic losses, but reading such a sad story worked to bring my mood down even further. I kept reading, hoping for some uplifting turn of events. And while I did like the interconnectedness amongst the characters, and how it came together in a circular fashion in the end, I closed the book feeling much the same. It was just so very sad. And so was I.

Beyond my own feelings, there was also something about the way Clegg writes that didn’t jive with me. The way some parts were written in present tense was weird and it made it difficult for me to follow. But what bothered me most was Clegg’s propensity for writing never-ending sentences. For example,

“There’s safety in numbers, Lydia’s mother would say as she blew clouds of smoke through the kitchen from behind the Formica table where she sat each night with her schnapps, like a general at her battle station making speeches to the troops.”

Yet I wonder: would this have bothered me if I wasn’t having such a strong reaction to the story?

Ultimately, I can’t help but wonder how differently I might have perceived this book if I’d read it at a different time, when my personal life was a little less chaotic. Would I rave about it like my fellow bloggers? Should I read it again down the road to see if my mind changes? I just don’t know.  And that’s why I won’t give this book a rating. It’s like when a couple splits up, and the one doing the splitting says, “it’s not you, it’s me.”

Sorry, Did You Every Have A Family, the problem was with me, not you.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. MartinA Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin
Published by Random House Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Fiction, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
four-stars
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin's ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.   Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals--in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg--whose true name is hidden from all he and Dunk encounter. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two . . . as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.   Featuring more than 160 all-new illustrations by Gary Gianni, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn't dead--yet. Praise for A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms   "Readers who already love Martin and his ability to bring visceral human drama out of any story will be thrilled to find this trilogy brought together and injected with extra life."--Booklist   "The real reason to check out this collection is that it's simply great storytelling. Martin crafts a living, breathing world in a way few authors can. . . . [Gianni's illustrations] really bring the events of the novellas to life in beautiful fashion."--Tech Times

I came across this book at the library (along with a couple of other great finds – I love my library), and, having heard good things from a friend, decided to give it a go. As it so happened, it turned out to be a great book for digging myself out of this blogging slump. So, here goes!

A Knight of the Seven Kindoms consisted of three novellas set in Westeros about 100 years prior to the events in A Game of Thrones. These three tales follow Ser Duncan the Tall, a wandering hedge knight, and his unlikely squire, Egg. Over the course of the three stories, they travel, serve, fight, and generally find their way into (and out of) trouble.

Like with ASOIAF, I was utterly amazed at the world building that takes places in this story, with all the lords with their sons and banners and whatnot. These stories are enriched with a level of descriptive detail that allows to reader to see exactly how GRRM sees Westeros, yet they felt different from the larger works. I think the novella format allowed for a more straightforward way of telling the story, rather than the alternation between characters’ points of view in the series.

I really enjoyed the character of Ser Duncan AKA Dunk. He was born to nothing, and was lucky enough to become a squire. The reader is introduced to Dunk around his 16th year, having just buried his master and taken up his shield and sword. It is obvious that Dunk had little education beyond his knightly training, and I found it a little irritating that Dunk’s repetitive thoughts and the recycled phrases of his old master kept finding their way onto the page. At first, I thought the use of such a device was a bit lazy, then realized that was probably a true representation of how someone like Dunk would really think – that’s pretty brilliant.

Dunk may not have been the most intelligent man, but he proved over and over again that he is a good man. He stays true to his word in a world where such a quality is rare, and manages to stick his neck out to help others, even it is costs his own. I also really enjoyed the relationship he cultivated with Egg throughout the course of the stories. Initially, I found Egg to be a mouthy little brat, but it was clear that he cared deeply for Dunk, and their differences complemented each other.

The only issue I had with these stories was following the who’s who of the Blackfyre Rebellion, which broke out between rival parts of the Targaryen family about 16 years prior to these stories. Because the family names are often similar, if not the same, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad. This is probably a common issue in these epic fantasy series, I just haven’t read enough of them to properly acclimate.

So, if you are a fan of epic fantasy or the ASOIAF series, you’ll probably enjoy this. Just be prepared to reread it in 10 years when the next set of novellas might be published! 😉

 

Magical Mondays: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Magical Mondays: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Published by ACE CHARTER on September 1st 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-stars
In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite... The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession… At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Being an unabashed Anglophile and proud Potterhead, I thought this book would be right up my (Diagon) alley. The author took quite an interesting approach to magical England, a kind of 18th century Harry Potter meets Parliament. Not surprisingly, I found certain parts of Sorcerer to the Crown quite enjoyable, but it had some pitfalls that kept me from falling in love with it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book was the way it was written–it was delightfully British. I think this particular sentence exemplifies it perfectly:

“Despite these brave prophylactics against disappointment, Prunella was inclined to be crestfallen when she drew out of the valise a sheaf of old papers–newspapers and torn receipts, of no account.”

(Translation in American: “She was sad because there was nothing in the bag.“)

The vocabulary was also quite dazzling, but became tedious the further along I read (seriously, my Kindle dictionary was no match for some of these words). Initially, it felt as if the author was just trying to show off her mad thesaurus skillz, but upon further reflection, I appreciated her use of archaic terms that truly enhanced the historical feel of the book.

I also enjoyed how the author created a world parallel to 18th century England, with all its white, patriarchal privilege, and then chose to create main characters who defy those cultural norms. Zacharias, the freed slave, held the highest magical position in the land. He faced overt discrimination from the magical society despite his true claim as Sorcerer Royal (as well as being a gifted thaumaturge), with his adversaries looking for any way to unseat him. There was also a restriction on women using magic, which made the feminist in me bristle. Although I generally disliked Prunella’s character, I enjoyed her complete dismissal of these rules, rising to heights previously unattainable to low born, mixed race women.

So, yea, this book totally matches what I usually enjoying reading. But there were a couple of things about it I couldn’t overlook. First of all, it was slooooow at times. I almost gave up on this book around the 1/3 mark. But what I truly struggled with was supporting the story’s heroin. Despite my earlier remarks about her, Prunella was reckless and rash, and something about her character rubbed me the wrong way. I also felt that she took advantage of Zacharias, whose temperament reminded of Jane Bennett and who was completely naive when it came to women.

The verdict: good, but not great. It looks like this might become a series, and I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll read the next book.

Sunday Salon: Research and Readathon Edition

Happenings// This was a full week! In addition to midterms, research, and readathoning, I’ve finally decided what I’m going to do re: graduate school applications. While I would prefer to apply to schools all over the country, I must also consider my hubby’s career, and he currently works for a geographically limited institution. So, I will be applying to only one PhD program this year. Fortunately, this happens to be the same university where I interviewed last year, so I’m hoping second time is the charm.

Submitted// a couple of abstracts to the Southeastern Psychological Association to present research posters at the 2016 annual conference: one with the health psychology lab and one based on my thesis data. Here’s hoping those get accepted, but since the conference is in New Orleans this year, I’ll be going regardless!

Progressing// on my thesis. The last couple of months I’ve struggled with physical illness and writer’s block, and I’ve had to push back my graduation a couple of times now because I haven’t been able to put cogent thoughts on paper. But something clicked this week and I’m getting going again. It may not be 100% complete by the end of the month, but it’ll be mostly done. And that will be a huge load off!

I also managed to get a couple of blog posts drafted this week! (The writer’s block also affected my ability to write reviews…) It feels really good to be back in the groove!!!

Reading// Because of school, I didn’t get to read much during the week. I’m still working on Packing For Mars by Mary Roach. I wanted to use Dewey’s readathon to finish it, but didn’t quite make it. I discovered two things about myself during the readathon: I am better at binge reading fiction; and reading about astronauts and space barf when you’re queasy is a really bad idea.

Listening// to the Harry Potter series read by Stephen Frey. I finished HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban Friday night as a readathon appetizer, and got through about 160 pages of listening to HP and the Goblet of Fire throughout Saturday. I absolutely adore listening to Frey read these books. Not only does he have a fantastic voice for narrating, his character voices are on point!

It feels good to have a good week! How was yours, readers?