Regular Rumination

Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Books People Have Been Telling Me To Read

Posted by in Books

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1. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – My college roommate listened to these on audiobook this year and she’s been telling me to read them ever since. It’s not that I don’t want to, I’m just intimidated by the size! One day I’ll get to this series.

2. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult – I’ve had so many people recommend this book and various other books by Jodi Picoult, but I’ve heard so many negative things about her books, and I admittedly spoiled this book for myself by googling the big twist ending. Is there anyone out there that wants to convince me otherwise?

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – I feel like every blogger except for me has read this! I bought it for Michael for Christmas a few years ago, thinking I would eventually get to it too, but I haven’t yet. I know, I know. One day!

4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand – With this movie coming out in December, this book is everywhere. A lot of readers I know have recommended it to me.

5. The Shining by Stephen King – I feel like this is the one book by Stephen King that everyone has read… except for me. In fact, I’ve never seen the movie, and I’m pretty much ignorant of the entire plot, other than hotel, writer, creepy twins. I’m looking forward to reading this for the first time and seeing the movie for the first time. Maybe a good Halloween project this year?

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6. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – Another one that everyone is shocked I haven’t read, but I tried several times when the movies first came out and I just couldn’t get into them. This summer, though, I picked up my sister’s copy of The Hobbit and suddenly I was interested again. I think my tastes have changed!

7. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – Jojo Moyes seems to be everywhere and I’ve heard nothing but lovely things about her books.

8. All the Neil Gaiman books – Here is a secret: I don’t really like Neil Gaiman books. I haven’t found one I’ve loved, though I’ve certainly tried. I’ve read NeverwhereAmerican GodsCoraline, and Good Omens. I actually liked Good Omens quite a bit, but I’m pretty sure it just means that I like Terry Pratchett. I’m willing to keep trying, though, because everyone seems to like his books so much. I’ve also heard that the audiobook for American Gods is great, so I might try that again followed by Anansi Boys.

9. The Fever by Megan Abbott – I got this audiobook on Audible because there were so many excellent endorsements from bloggers! Plus… that cover!

10. Winger by Andrew Smith – And, finally, this is a book I keep recommending to myself, but never checking it out from the library or buying it. Mostly because the only thing I really like about it is the cover… it’s just so perfect. I keep coming across it online and in stores and reminding myself that I really must read this book one day. Anyone out there read this and loved it?

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke & The Bookish.

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Bout of Books!

Posted by in Books

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Down to the very last minute, I’ve decided to participate in the Bout of Books! For a little bit more information about this readathon:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

I am pretty much a two books a week reader, some weeks it’s more, and some weeks it’s less, so it evens out over the year. Since the only goal of this week is read more than I usually read, my goal will be to read at least five books. I’d like to get started on my stack of books for the Diversiverse challenge in September and a few books I’ll be picking up from the library tomorrow. First up on my list is The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. I was also craving some crime fiction when I went to the library last and I picked up Mind’s Eye by Hakan Nesser. It’s something a little bit different for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing if I like it!

Are you participating in the bout of books? What goals did you set for yourself?

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A More Diverse Universe

Posted by in Blogging, Books

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The wonderful Aarti at BookLust has been running A More Diverse Universe every fall for the past two years. In past years, she’s challenged bloggers to read science fiction and fantasy novels by people of color and post about them. The first year, it lead to me reading The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by NK Jemisin. Just reading through this post again made me want to reread the series! They’re wonderful fantasy novels that I highly recommend. Lsat year, I had every intention of participating, but I didn’t quite make the date, but it did make me take a serious look at my reading habits and what I can do to make sure I’m reading more and more books by authors of color.

This year, Aarti is opening up the challenge a little bit. Instead of reading fantasy and science fiction books by an author of color, the task this year is to read and review any book by an author of color during September 14-27th. I also have a goal (that I’m woefully behind on) to read books on my TBR, so I pulled the books that I could reach (there are a few boxes in front of my bookshelves still unfortunately) from my shelves and I came up with a reading list. Here are my pool of titles!

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I don’t expect to finish all of these, but I think it’s a good selection that includes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Historical fiction and contemporary. A lot of these books are BIG though, so I’m not quite sure how many I’ll get through in the next three weeks, but hopefully I’ll have a few reviews for you during A More Diverse Universe.

If you’re interested in participating, head on over to Aarti’s post to sign up. I can’t wait to read your reviews!

 

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What I’ve Been Reading…

Posted by in Books

I didn’t read too much in April, since I was traveling so much, but I did manage to finish a few books and this week I had a personal little readathon.

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The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead – My sister has been long telling me to read this series, claiming it was one of her favorites, but I was unconvinced. It sounded like a bad mashup of Twilight and Harry Potter. But my little sister reads every book I give her and she gave the first book for Christmas, so of course I read it. And, well, I thought it was just okay. It lingered on my desk for a while, when a coworker picked it up and read it. Then another. They moved onto the second book without me and assured me: it gets really good with the second book. So we started a little Vampire Academy book club, reading all the books in the series over the course of February and March. My sister was right! I’m sorry I ever doubted her. No, these books aren’t the most well-written books in the world, but they’re a ton of fun. The romance is steamy, the vampire lore is different enough to be interesting, and the heroine, Rose, is kick-ass but in a very real way. She can wield a stake with confidence and likes make-up and doing girly things with her best friend and is a little bit cocky and a little bit insecure.

Saga Vol. 2 & 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - This comic series is so good. If you haven’t started reading it please get to a comic store or bookstore and pick it up ASAP! The art is amazing, the story is perfect. I can’t get over how great it is at every turn. Please read!

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki - I adored Skim when I read it a few years ago and I practically jumped for joy when I got my copy of This One Summer. This comic is lovely about that summer when you’re between the grown-up world and the kid world and how it can all seem so confusing. Do you want to build sand castles? Or talk to boys in the convenience store? It was all so perfectly rendered, I was immediately transported back to my own confusing summers. I loved Rose & Windy and their very flawed parents. Also highly recommended: this piece “Where Are All the Fat Girls in Literature?” by Mariko Tamaki.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson - I’m still not sure how I felt about this book, weeks later, but I think I really liked it. I found it to be occasionally slow, but I liked the narrative structure of it and I think that Jodi Lynn Anderson is a beautiful writer. It was an interesting variation on Peter Pan, but I do think ultimately it’s going to be pretty forgettable.

Various work books - I don’t often blog about my job, but BEA is coming up soon and I decided to try and read all the novels we’re publishing this fall before the show. I don’t sell a ton of fiction in my market segment (we’re more into very specific books, practical how-tos, and gifty impulse books), but I was so in love with the way everything was described at sales conference this year. I have to say, I’ve loved everything I’ve read so far! I have a few more I’d like to read in the next two weeks before BEA, but overall I think this is just a really strong fiction list and I’m eager to see all the wonderful things it does. I’ve read three books from Fall 2014 and one from Spring and none of them have disappointed.

What have you been reading?

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Quotes & Notes: Lexicon by Max Barry

Posted by in Books, Quotes & Notes

lexicon

 

Quotes: 

“That’s bullshit! I loved Cecilia!”
“If you say so.”
“I’m being lectured about love by a robot! I’m broken? You’re broken! Tell me what you think love is! I seriously want to know!”
“Okay,” Eliot said. “It’s defining yourself through the eyes of another. It’s coming to know a human being on a level so intimate that you lose any meaningful distinction between you, and you carry the knowledge that you are insufficient without her every day for twenty years, until she drives an animal transport at you, and you shoot her. It’s that.”
Wil watched the road awhile.
“I”m sorry I called you broken,” Eliot said.
“Forget it.”
“Everyone’s broken,” Eliot said, “one way or another.”

Notes: 

Reading the descriptions of Lexicon, and there have been a lot of them because this book was everywhere a few months ago, I thought it would be the kind of book that would be difficult to get into. I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t, not even a little bit. It grabs you and speeds along from page one as you slowly piece together this strange world where words have an almost magical power.

And that’s part of the fun – piecing together the story and how it will fit together in the end, so I won’t tell you too much. There is a mysterious school and a sinister organization run by “poets,” people who take on the names of famous poets throughout history who wield the power of words. Poets must control every aspect of their personality so they can’t be controlled or “compromised” by their words. Showing emotions, desires, wants reveals your inner thoughts and feelings. There is a poet named Eliot who is on the run along with Wil, a man who can’t be controlled by the words, which makes him dangerous to the poets. Finally there is Emily, a drifter and con artist who has nothing to lose and so attends the school, even though she thinks it must be too good to be true, but who does the worst thing you can possibly do there: she falls in love.

Lexicon feels fresh and different, it feels like a smart book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I think if I had any complaints about the story it’s that sometimes the world-building felt a little bit on the weaker side, especially if you’re used to reading more complex science fiction and fantasy. I really wanted to know more about the intricate structures of the organization, how the words worked, and what other sinister acts the organization was getting up to. Max Barry is an author I can’t wait to read more from, though. It sounds like his other books, like Jennifer Government and Machine Man, have that same combination of plot-driven satire with sci-fi elements. I certainly wouldn’t complain if he decided to write another book set in the world of Lexicon. Just throwing that thought out into the world!

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Quotes & Notes: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Posted by in Books, Quotes & Notes

daughter

 

QUOTES

The real world, already a distant thing – just a crackle of fireworks at horizon’s edge – faded away entirely. A high, sweet thrill sang through Madrigal as if she were a lute string. Akiva took off his gloves and dropped them, and when he touched her, fingertips trailing up her arms and neck, it was with his bare hands. He reached behind her head, untied her mask, and lifted it away. Her vision, which had been narrowed all night to what she could see through its small apertures, opened, and Akiva filled her sight, still wearing his comical mask. She heard his soft exhalation and murmur of “so beautiful,” and she reached up and took off his disguise.

“Hello,” she whispered, as she had when they had come together in the Emberlin and happiness had bloomed in her. That happiness was like a spark to a firework, compared with what filled her now.

NOTES

I am smitten. I read this book on planes and trains and buses and, yes, sometimes this story was enough to distract me from beautiful rolling hills and glorious mountain countrysides. It’s the kind of book that benefits from having no knowledge going into it. All you really need to know is that it’s a magical, tragic story about an artist in Prague with blue hair and mysterious tattoos.

Laini Taylor’s writing style is so evocative and has poetic flourishes that I just devoured. I am sad that it took me this long to read – I kept confusing it with Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, which I liked, but oh, I loved this one so much more. I’m in awe of Taylor’s imagination and the world she created in Daughter of Smoke & Bone. My heart was Taylor’s puppet: it sang when she wanted it to and broke on command.

I never wanted it to end. I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley, I suppose so they could hook a new reader in advance of the publication of the third book, and I just wanted everyone at Netgalley and Little, Brown to know: your scheme worked. I have already purchased the second book, I’ll be purchasing the first to have in my physical collection, and I’m sure the third will not be far behind.

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Quotes & Notes: girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Posted by in Books, Quotes & Notes

girlchild

QUOTES

The letters are sitting right here, bound in dirty string so they can’t come open too easily, so they can’t steal my nights as I look for secrets in their creases. Mama developed Grandma’s preference for onionskin paper too, and felt-tip, I wait for this to happen to me, I’m certain it will. The only way to tell the difference between Mama’s letters and Grandma’s at first glance is that Mama’s stay bundled up so tight the string rips into their pages and Grandma’s are loose and open, all over this table. I keep Mama’s letters closed, keep their edges close together like a cut that needs force to heal. I’m all wrapped up in there, jumbled with her, small i‘s and slashes, her story in my story at every turn. (70)

NOTES

Oh, girlchild. I finished reading this book earlier this afternoon, but I don’t know how I felt about it. Rory Dawn Hendrix has grown up in the Calle, a trailer park in a town north of Reno, and all she wants, all her mother and grandmother want, is to grow up and get out without making the same mistakes that the women in her family have made before her.

On the one hand, it’s hard to believe in Rory’s voice. On the other? The writing in this book is absolutely beautiful, with a lilt that makes the words sing in a way I find so appealing. This is the story of a lot of ugly things. About what it’s like to grow up poor. About what it’s like to be unable to escape the abuse that is rampant in your community. About what it’s like to want. It’s also about the beautiful things that can be found anywhere, even a place like the Calle. A mother’s love for her child. Hope when it seems impossible to do so. A patchwork carpet made from sample tiles from the carpet store, mismatched and lovely for it.

We bring home another stack of carpet pieces, outdated samples and remnants too short to sell, different-colored, different-styled, different-lengthed, and different-piled, and Mama gets down to it. She cuts the squares precise, the colors blending against the mortar and brick under the woodstove, against the frame of the door, and she mumbles through the nails she holds in her lips, murmurs about this green and that yellow while she hammers them in, and never after that does she ask for my help or advice, and I don’t offer anyway, and as the paydays roll past, our wall-to-wall becomes a reality.

Six pay stubs later and our living room is carpeted in the brightest blues, golds, and violets, patterned and deep. As she’s packing up her tools, Mama is all smiles and says, “See if you can pick a favorite, R.D. I bet you can’t.” I don’t think to question this until I walk across it in bare feet, sink into the plush of this square and that. I don’t think to question this until I imagine doing it myself, deciding what goes with which and making it permanent, believing in my choices enough to pound them with a hammer. (196)

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Quotes & Notes: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

Posted by in Books, Quotes & Notes

while beauty slept

 

QUOTES

Is it possible that ten years could pass as one? A single afternoon with Marcus could demand an hour’s telling: the feel of the sun on my face, the looks that passed between us, the things he said to make me blush. Yet I can recount the decade after our parting in a few words: My life carried on, unchanged. Within the castle, day followed day, month after month, the rituals of court unaltered by the passing of time. Yet beyond our walls the shadows gathered. The evil we had sought to hold off for so long swirled inexorably closer, spreading suspicion and panic in its wake. (241)

NOTES

A few of us at work have started a fairy tale/classic literature retellings book club, which sounds very specific, but it was after reading this post and after we all enjoyed While Beauty Slept. I also happened to be reading the Lunar Chronicles, which I’ll post about soon, so it’s turning into something of a themed reading month for me! If you’re interested in following along at home, the next book we’ll be reading for this book club is called Dark Companion by Marta Acosta, a retelling of Jane Eyre.

While Beauty Slept takes the story of Sleeping Beauty and puts it into a plausible historical context. It begins with Elise as an old woman, overhearing her great-granddaughter telling a story about a witch who casts a spell over a castle, filling it with sleeping sickness, until the princess is woken up by true love’s kiss. Elise, though, knows the true story, the real story of what happened and it has nothing to do with magic.

One of the best things about While Beauty Slept is seeing a fairy tale you know well in a new way. The book can drag on in parts, but it’s worth it to see how the tragedy of Rose, the beautiful princess, and her lady-in-waiting Elise plays out. I also loved that Elise is truly the main character, not just a witness to the “heroine’s” story. Elise herself is the heroine, a woman born of humble means, who uses her intelligence and honesty to become someone important to the queen and her daughter.

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Quotes & Notes: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Posted by in Books, Quotes & Notes

the orchardist

 

QUOTES

Riding in the herd, the sound like one constant, endless sigh; some horses frantic and others calm, some remembering some wrong done to them while others wanted only to sleep, and each struggling with hunger and thirst; some horses pregnant, others desperate to copulate; and all moved forward as one body amid the heat and the dust. The men and Della spaced out and caught among among them like ornaments in a blanket; like disparate thoughts fretting to cohere. The feeling that this would never end, being caught in the herd, heading east or north, west or south, moving for some purpose though that purpose was for the moment lost; the horses – the herd- carried the men at times more than the men guided them. The men were bound by time – they must reach the auction that evening, or the next day – and yet the riding among the horses through the landscape was endless and timeless, distanceless. It made some men – not the ones who were riding, but others, who lived elsewhere, employed in different occupations – desperate; it made Della sink down under the pressing weight of all that time, all that distance – for it was not deficit but surplus experienced between two destinations – and though she felt at times she could not move, because of the pressing weight, she also felt placed. Ensconced. Safe.

NOTES

The Orchardist is the kind of historical, lyrical novel that is appealing to me at the moment. It is a book that is executed beautifully, with lovely language that reflects the chaos of the horse herds and the quiet of the orchards in the same book. Talmadge, who lives alone at the apple and apricot orchard until sisters Della and Jane upend his life and leave him with a child, Angelene, is a quiet, stoic man, upended by the mysterious disappearance of his sister when they were teenagers. Later he is driven to do unthinkable things in the name of saving Della and leaving Angelene with something of a family, but most of the novel is spent in quiet contemplation of what to do with the life you are given.

Della, still damaged from her life before she escaped the unthinkable with Jane, leaves Angelene and Talmadge after Jane’s death, unable to cope with a life without movement. She travels from one job to the next, trying to blend into the world of men, trying to prove herself to be as strong, physical, daring as a man. Talmadge waits for her return, desperate for Della to want the life of the orchardist, bound by the seasons and by ties to the land and blood relations. Angelene, though, has written Della off, she is a memory. Angelene can’t understand why Talmadge would want to bother with Della and bringing her back, Talmadge can’t understand why Angelene wouldn’t want Della back in her life.

As much as I liked the majority of this novel, when the drama finally comes to a head and Talmadge attempts to rescue Della from the life she has chosen, I felt weary by the story and by Talmadge. He is blind to the women around him, only thinking instead of the women who have left him. I guess no novel can sit quietly in the happy parts of the story and I can’t help but wonder if this complaint reflects my current state of mind more than an actual technical weakness in the story, but I just wanted Talmadge to recognize what he had in the orchard. I wanted Della to be able to live the life she wanted without another man interfering. I wanted happiness for them both. But that doesn’t necessarily make a good story.

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Comics February: Who Runs the World? Girls.

Posted by in Books, comic

awesome ladies

My comics reading has slowed down a bit the past week or so, just because I couldn’t get to the library with the bad weather and I read almost everything I had! But I got a nice new bag of comics to read for this, the (sadly!) last week of Comics February, but I’m pretty much planning on making this Comics 2014, so don’t worry, you’ll be seeing a lot more.

The theme for the past week has definitely been comics about amazing women, some by amazing women.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki - It was pretty much guaranteed that I would love this, but I haven’t seen the movie Nausicaa, so the mythology was completely new to me and, as usual, I was blown away. I have loved Miyazaki’s movies for practically my whole life. My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service were on high rotation throughout my childhood and I loved Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle as an adult. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind takes place well into the future, after the industrialized world has collapsed after a brutal war. Earth, destroyed by humanity’s negligence, fights back by producing plants that emit dangerous spores, creating entire swaths of the planet that are an uninhabitable waste known as the Sea of Corruption. Nausicaa is a princess from the Valley of the Wind and she holds the secret to the Sea of Corruption and is also the only leader her small nation has, so she must lead them into battle. I never wanted the first volume of Nausicaa to end and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series right away.

Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Guts (The New 52) by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, and Dan Green - So. Wonder Woman. I read the first volume last year and I liked it, but it didn’t blow my mind. I liked this volume a little bit more, but then I got to reading reviews. Folks say that the changes mythology of Wonder Woman in this series is something they’re not happy about, but I don’t really know anything about Wonder Woman or her mythology, so I can’t say one way or the other. It’s so interesting to read blog posts on the changes in The New 52 and every comment is either that they love the changes to the new Wonder Woman or they hate them. After reading this and all the demands for a Wonder Woman movie, I’ll definitely be reading some older Wonder Woman comics to learn more.

Hilda & The Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson - Hilda lives in a world that on first glance looks a lot like our own, but after a few pages you realize that it definitely is not. There are invisible creatures who want Hilda and her mother to leave the cabin they live in immediately and there is a giant, mountain-sized giant, who seems to be waiting for something. One day, Hilda’s eyes are opened and she sees that the invisible creatures are actually the citizens of a tiny city. Hilda’s cabin just happens to sit right on top of it and Hilda herself is the giant terrorizing the invisible town. I loved Hilda, I loved the art in this comic, and I adored the world building. It’s just the kind of comic that makes you smile.

Marbles by Ellen Forney - I talked in length about Marbles and Calling Dr. Laura over at BookRiot, so I won’t rehash everything I said there, but I did really love these two graphic memoirs. Marbles truly changed the way I look at mania and depression and what it means to be bipolar. Forney does an amazing job explaining what it is like to live as a bipolar artist. I think this is an important memoir, one that I’m so glad I read.

Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges  – I wasn’t sure I was going to love this memoir. There were times when I felt like the story dragged on a little too long or I wasn’t really sure what the point was, but towards the end the enormity of what Georges was trying to understand about herself and her past really hit me. Plus, the art is downright beautiful and I’m obsessed with her lettering.

What comics did you read for Comics February this week?

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Quotes & Notes: The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker

Posted by in Books

golem

QUOTES: 

It took him nearly two hours to find the crate. Two hours of picking his way through stacks of suitcases and boxes bound with twine. His stomach burned and cold sweat dripped into his eyes. Finally he moved aside a rolled up carpet, and there it was: his crate. And in it, his bride.

[...] Heart pounding, he pulled the paper from his pocket and carefully sounded out the command “To wake the golem.” He held his breath and waited.

Slowly, the golem came to life. First to wake were her senses. She felt a roughness of wood under her fingertips. The cold damp air on her skin. She sensed the movement of the boat. She smelled mildew and the tang of seawater. She woke a little more and knew she had a body. The fingertips that felt the wood were her own. The skin that the air chilled was her skin. She moved a finger to see if she could. She heard a man nearby breathing. She knew his name and who he was. He was her master, her entire purpose. She was his golem, bound to his will. And right now, he wanted her to open her eyes.

The golem opened her eyes.

NOTES: 

Hooray for the first audiobook of 2014! Finding and recording my favorite quotes is a little bit harder when it comes to audiobooks. I’m not always thinking about language the same way I am when I am reading. Audible does have a bookmark feature where you can make a note, but I only bookmarked one section and, while it’s an important part of the book, I don’t think it’s the most beautiful or representative quote from the entire thing.

I liked this book very much, but I don’t have strong feelings about it. I think my favorite thing was the combination of traditions from Jewish folklore and Syrian folklore, but I was a little bit tired of this story by the end of it. It felt a little long, but I’m not sure I would have felt the same way if I were reading it instead of listening to it. I’m beginning to wonder if I really like audiobooks that are this long, but I’ve downloaded quite a few long ones with my most recent Audible credits, so we’ll see if this is a trend going forward.

If The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is the perfect book to remind you of summer and being outside, The Golem and the Jinni is the perfect book to wallow in winter in New York. I do love reading about the time period, turn of the century, especially turn of the century New York, and I would have loved even more details about the different communities and what the city looked like back then.

The narrator was good, but it felt like he read the book so slowly. I ended up with the audio on double speed pretty quickly.My very favorite parts of this novel were when the golem and the jinni would walk together through the city and discuss the strange humans they lived with. I never wanted it to end, but of course the plot had to keep moving and it did.

 

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Quotes & Notes: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Posted by in Books

the homecoming of samuel lake

 

QUOTES: 

Every year, the day after school let out for summer, Samuel and Willadee would load up their kids and take off for south Arkansas. Willadee already had freckles everywhere the sun had ever touched, but she would always roll the window down and hang her arm out, and God would give her more. Her boisterous, sand-colored hair would fly in the breeze, tossing and tangling, and eventually she would laugh out loud, just because home made her feel so free.

Willadee loved this ritual. This once-a-year road trip, when she was snugged into the car with her good, healthy family – all of them fairly vibrating with anticipation. This was her time for thinking about where they’d been and where they might be going and how well the kids were growing in to their names – the names she’d given them as blessings when they were born. The first boy, she’d called Noble. Her clear call to the universe to infuse him with courage and honor. The younger son was Bienville. A good city, or as Willadee thought of it, a peaceful place. The girl, she had named Swan. Not because a swan is beautiful but because it is powerful. A girl needs power that she doesn’t have to borrow from anyone else, Willadee had thought. So far her blessings seemed to be working.

NOTES: 

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake has been sitting on my shelves for a long time. I’ve picked it up on occasion, reading the first chapter, but it always goes back. I don’t know what was different this time, but this novel and I just clicked. We had a right-book-right-person-right-time moment.

The language is the kind that you want to read out loud in a drawl and it felt lush and beautiful. This is a novel that oscillates between the happy and the sad, the small pains and joys of day to day life, and the bigger tragedies that mark each family’s trajectory in this world. I feel like I used the exact same sentence in my Quotes & Notes on Someone by Alice McDermott and maybe there is just something about this kind of novel that is speaking to me right now.

There are some horrible things that happen in this novel, truly horrible. I admit I was frustrated by the ending, when something life-altering happens in the last 20 pages, enough to write an entire second novel on how the characters dealt with the horror of it. Even with the ending, it’s a novel that I am happy I read and that I wanted to return to. It helps, too, that much of the novel takes place on a farm in the summertime and there was no better antidote to the endless days of snow.

I won a copy of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake in a contest held by the publisher.

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