Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, The Reading Project, Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare, First Impressions by Charlie Lovett, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas and Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Why didn't this exist when I was in college? I would have won this contest with ease! Though I might have faced some competition from my best friend and room mate Muff Larson, who was even more of a book lover than I was, if that's possible.

Cool Idea of the Day: National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest
"There are readers, and then there are book collectors," Smithsonian
magazine noted in its report on an annual competition that "exists
specifically to feed the book-accumulating habits of young collectors."
The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest
"celebrates book collectors whose treasure troves are organized around a
clear theme. A panel evaluates 'the intrinsic significance, innovation
and interest of book collections as presented in entrants' descriptive
essays and bibliographies.' That's right--it's not enough to amass books
to enter the competition. Rather, you have to demonstrate your bookish
chops with a bibliography that shows how well you understand your
collection and how it fits into the wider world." The winning student
gets $2,500, and his or her college library gets $1,000 to support
future competitions. First, second and third place winners are also
invited to attend a ceremony at the Library of Congress.

This is a great idea, though I don't know that I could bear to part with all my beloved tomes in exchange for some emails from fellow book lovers.

"Could this be a new chapter in the way we interact with one another?"
asked the Huffington Post in a feature on the Shaheryar Malik, who "has
left stacks of books
from his own library at popular destinations all over New York City. He
doesn't stick around to see if anyone takes one of his books, nor does
he re-visit his stacks. Instead he leaves a bookmark with his e-mail
address printed on it inside each book, in the hopes that he'll hear
back from whomever decided to pick decided to pick that book up."

Malik's idea, called The Reading Project, started last spring when
he decided to let his books "live their own lives.... I felt much
calmer, relaxed and yet more excited when I walked away from them." Each
stack has a note that reads: "Take a book. Any book. When you finish,
e-mail the artist." He has received about 70 e-mails from more than 30
countries, and has dispersed all but three of his books. "Words in a
book sitting on my shelf are meaningless and lifeless to me until they
are read again," he said. "The people who've taken part in the project
are now connected to me in this weird [but good] way. I've never seen or
met them, but I know what they have read and vice versa. That's pretty
personal. Strange thing is that I've given a total stranger a part of me
and yet, I still have it."

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is the first, very hefty volume in a new Shadowhunters series titled The Dark Artifices, and starring some of the background characters from the Mortal Instruments series that Clare is well known for, and which has been made into a movie and currently a TV series.
Having devoured the Mortal Instruments series, I still wasn't sure this new series would stack up to Clare's previous work. I need not have worried. Though the book is in serious need of an edit, (it's 670 pages long, if you don't count the 20 page little booklet at the end that delves into a day in the life of Clary Fairchild) it's filled with Clare's usual sleek prose and engrossing characters. A master storyteller, Clare is able to keep reader's attention through every twist and turn of the plot, right through to the always climactic ending. Here's the blurb:
The Shadowhunters of Los Angeles star in the first novel in Cassandra Clare's newest series, The Dark Artifices, a sequel to the internationally bestselling Mortal Instruments series. Lady Midnight is a Shadowhunters novel.
It's been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.
Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn't lead her in treacherous directions…
Making things even more complicated, Julian's brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters' help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn't recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?
Glitz, glamours, and Shadowhunters abound in this heartrending opening to Cassandra Clare's Dark Artifices series.
Though I enjoyed learning more about Emma and her parabatai Julian, and their forbidden love, it got to be a bit tiresome about 2/3 of the way through the book. That said, it was still a decent romantic plot and Mark's torment over his fae lover gave the novel a much needed air of gravitas. I was glad to see the return of some other Mortal Instruments characters, like Magnus Bane, and I loved hearing about how they were doing now that the "war" is over and everyone is trying to rebuild the Shadowhunters and shun the fae. All in all, a well deserved A, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the Mortal Instruments series.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas was recommended to me by a friend at the library who knows that I enjoy revamped fairy tales. This particular retelling is of Beauty and the Beast with a little bit of Little Red Riding Hood thrown in for good measure. My book arrived from Barnes and Noble damaged by bad printing, with the first several pages having been sewn into the binding so that I had to cut them open in order to read them and get them to lie flat. Still, though maimed, it was readable, so I figured it wasn't worth it to complain to Barnes and Noble and wait for a fresh copy to arrive. Here's the blurb:
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin--one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin--and his world--forever. Publisher's Weekly:When 19-year-old Feyre kills a wolf in the borderland forest between the human world and the faerie kingdom of Prythian, she unknowingly breaks a wary truce and must repay the murder with her life. Tamlin, the shapeshifting Fae who comes to collect, offers Feyre a way out: spend the rest of her days on his lands in Prythian. She reluctantly agrees, leaving her starving family behind for the deceptive luxury of the faerie world. As Feyre begins to accept and even enjoy her new surroundings, not to mention the attentions of her host, she learns that the faerie world is crumbling under a blight that robs people like Tamlin of their magic and lets monsters roam free. Maas (the Throne of Glass series) draws themes and plot points from several fairy tales, fueling a well-developed world and complex relationships. The gruesome politics and magical might of the Fae may seem to leave Feyre hopelessly outmatched, but her grit and boundless loyalty demand that her foes—and readers—sit up and pay attention.
I honestly didn't expect to become so entranced by this novel that I couldn't put it down, but that's what happened. I was somewhat flummoxed by Feyre's constant fear and anxiety for her crappy family's welfare, when they'd shown her nothing in the way of kindness, love or gratitude for keeping them alive, but she seemed to be the kind of person whose honor demands that if she's given her word that she will do something, she will do it until she dies. Since she promised her dying mother that she, the youngest daughter, would take care of her worthless father (who gambled away the family fortune and was crippled by bill collectors and somehow gave up on being a decent father) and two horrible sisters (who could have easily learned to hunt, or gotten work to help keep the family alive, but of course they don't, they let Feyre do all the work and then try to take the money that she makes for themselves), she can't believe that Tamlin the Beast would do as he says and make sure that her family is well fed and cared for in her absence. When it turns out that they are, she is still accosted by her cruel and cold older sister who demands that she tell her the truth of where she's been and what she is doing. Again, Feyre bows to the whims of this horrid person, though there's no reason to. When she gives everything, at the end, we are meant to think that she will be happy in her new life, but I felt slightly cheated that Feyre wasn't allowed to solve the riddle and survive as a human being, when that was her greatest strength, her humanity. Still, the prose was mesmerizing and the plot intricate and swift. Another well deserved A, and I'd recommend this to anyone who loves old school fairy tales and reboots of them.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett  was recommended to me by my friend and fellow MV Book group buddy Dawn K. She felt that as a bibliophile, and fan of 19th century literature, that I'd love this story of Jane Austen and the mystery of what happened to the first draft of her novel Pride and Prejudice. Here's the blurb:
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.
In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
Though I've become rather tired of the conceit of having a book that goes from one century and POV to another in alternating chapters, Lovett manages to keep the plot moving with sterling prose and engaging characters. I did find Sophie to be more than a little irritating and stupid in her willingness to overlook clear signs of evil in Winston just because he was good in bed, but she was saved by good guy Eric at the last minute, so all is well that ends well, if you don't mind a bit of damsel in distress sexism. Still, the story had just the right amount of tension and delved just enough into the life of poor old Jane Austen to keep the pages turning. I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to all Jane Austen fans and those who love a good bookish mystery.

Wake Of Vultures by Lila Bowen was a recommendation of Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid series and seriously funny guy. I've read several of the books he's recommended on his Facebook page or his website, and 9 times out of 10 he's proven that he knows what a good read is all about. Wake of Vultures was no exception, much to my surprise. I am not normally a fan of the Western genre, but this novel managed to combine urban fantasy tropes with Western era scenes and somehow ended up riveting this reader to the page. Here's the blurb: Monsters, magic and the supernatural combine in this epic debut where a young woman must defeat the evil hiding beneath the surface.
Nettie Lonesome dreams of a better life than toiling as a slave in the sandy desert. But late one night, a stranger attacks her — and Nettie wins more than the fight.
Now she's got everything she ever wanted: friends, a good horse, and a better gun. But if she can't kill the thing haunting her nightmares and stealing children across the prairie, she'll lose it all — and never find out what happened to her real family. The Shadow will begin a journey that leads her to the darkest chambers of the heart — if only she can survive.
Wake of Vultures is the first novel of the Shadow series and introduces Nettie Lonesome, who is much more than she seems. Publisher's Weekly:
Delilah S. Dawson’s first book under the Bowen name, set in a gritty and well-realized paranormal Wild West, is a warm-hearted winner. Nettie Lonesome, a mixed-race young woman who dresses like a man, has been told all her life that she’s worthless. She runs the failing ranch of a married white couple who treat her like a slave, but her heart lies with the nearby Double TK Ranch, where she trains horses and is welcomed with respect and acceptance. When a man attacks her and she kills him, he turns to sand and her entire world flips upside down. Soon tragedy strikes the men of the Double TK, and Nettie, with the help of enigmatic shape-shifter Coyote Dan and some lawmen who are no strangers to the strange, sets out to find her destiny, as well as a child thief called Pia Mupitsi. The unforgiving western landscape is home to supernatural beasties as diverse as the human inhabitants, and no-nonsense Nettie is pragmatic and brave. Themes of self-worth, gender, and the complexity of identity are treated with frank realism and sensitivity, and the narrative is a love letter to the paranormal western genre. Fantastical history fans will be delighted
I honestly had no idea that there even was a paranormal western genre, and I detest novels that are described as "gritty," because that usually means that there's a lot of swearing, violence and gore, all of which do not interest me as a reader. This novel, however, didn't really have a lot of swearing, nor was the gore gratuitous, for the most part, though the horror elements were definitely there, especially towards the end. That said, Nettie is an amazing protagonist and her story of building a life for herself as a mixed race young woman in the old west was fantastic reading. The prose was clear and crisp, the plot ferocious and the storytelling heartfelt and beautiful. A strong A, with the recommendation to anyone who loves a good underdog story in the old west, complete with vampire prostitutes and Native American shapeshifters.

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