Friday, January 31, 2014

Thoughts on Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
By Maria Semple

First published: August 2012 by Little, Brown and Company

Read: 27 - 30 January 2014

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Author online: Website | Facebook

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world. (Goodreads)

My thoughts

Oh, Bernadette. Where do I even start with you? I had read so much praise for this book and I'm pleased to say it's all deserved. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is simply delightful in every way.

It is an epistolary novel, made up of various written documents which bit by bit reveal the story of Bernadette Fox and help explain how she became the woman she is today. It is all weaved together by notes from Bernadette's daughter Bee. This style is very effective, adding to the mystery and providing different perspectives. The last part of the book is Bee telling us how it all turned out in the end – and what a great, satisfactory ending it was.

The book is fun and witty, but also poignant and touching. Through it all there's an underlying sadness, and you can feel it building up to something terrible. I reached a point where I almost didn't want to read any further because I was dreading what was coming, but at the same time there was no way I could stop because I absolutely needed to know what happened.

The cast of characters is quite amazing, and to be honest I think everyone is a little crazy on some level. In addition to the relationship between Bernadette and her family, Bee and Elgin, I found the dynamics between her and her neighbour, fellow school mum and nemesis Audrey Griffin, very interesting, and it did not go where I thought it would. Then again, neither did a lot of the story.

Bottom line: Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a funny and heartwarming novel with memorable characters and a lot of heart. It will stay with you long after you've turned the last page.

My rating:

Monday, January 27, 2014

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Thoughts on Stiltskin

By Andrew Buckley

First published: December 2013 by Curiosity Quills Press

Read: 19-26 January 2014

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

What would you do if you found an evil dwarf in your bathtub?

In Robert Darkly’s case you scream like a girl… and then you get taken on a journey to an entirely different world living just on the other side of our own reality; a world where fairy tales are real but not in the way we’ve come to expect them.

The aforementioned dwarf, Rumpelstiltskin, has escaped the Tower prison of Thiside determined to finish the sinister plot he started so many years ago.

Robert Darkly, oblivious that he is the son of the Mad Hatter, must partner with the mysterious ‘Agency’ to pursue Rumpelstiltskin across our world and the world of Thiside and uncover the treacherous secret that threatens to throw both realities into eternal chaos. (Goodreads)

My thoughts

I love re-tellings of fairy tales, especially when they surprise you with something fresh and exciting, and Stiltskin certainly did that for me. Buckley has thrown together elements from several different well-known fairy tales, added a bit of our own world to the mix and the result is very entertaining.

I think the best word to describe this book is "unpredictable". The minute you think you know where the story is going, you're instantly proven wrong. There are twists and turns on every page, but it doesn't feel hectic or overwhelming. At one point you just have to let go of your expectations and go with the flow. And the story flows well. I was never bored or confused, and the action is pretty much non-stop. I could easily have finished the book in a day or two if real life hadn't interfered (and that's very quick for me).

The style is somewhat reminiscent of Terry Pratchett with the same sort of surrealistic humour. I didn't find it laugh-out-loud funny (except in a few places) but I was constantly chuckling because of lines like this:
"People should know better," piped up Jerry, a thirty-something grocery store clerk who moonlighted as a completely ineffective contract killer.
This line is actually a good example of how this book, even while being very funny, is still quite a dark tale. There is plenty of madness, graveyards, monsters and bad weather, and it's not a story you read to your kids before bedtime (unless you want them to have nightmares).

As for the characters, I pretty much loved them all, from the slightly awkward Robert Darkly to the evil dwarf Rumpelstiltskin, the warrior gnomes Gnarly and Gnick and the Mad Hatter himself. Thiside is populated by characters from many different fairy tales and while still recognisable to us "Othasiders", most of them are far from what you'd expect.

I think the concept of parallell worlds is done very well in the book, and I enjoyed hearing the "real" story behind the fairy tales we all know and love. The ending sets the premise for a sequel, which I can't wait to read.

Bottom line: Stiltskin is fresh and funny and definitely worth a read for any fairy tale fan - or if you're simply looking for a quick and exciting read.

My rating:


Author online: Website | Twitter

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New reading journal

The notebook I'm going to use as my new reading journal and matching bookmark arrived today! Seriously, how cute are those owls?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Reading Wishlist

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature / weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week we make a top ten list from a given topic.

This week's topic is

Top ten things I'd like to see more of in books

1. Books set in the theatre
I love the theatre, both watching and participating, and I think a theatre would make a wonderful setting for many kinds of interesting stories.

2. Swashbuckling adventures for grown-ups
The kids have all the fun, don't they? While I've enjoyed several fantasy/adventure books with children or young teens as characters, I often find it hard to get really into it because of the age gap. I want to read the same sort of stories but with adult characters.

3. Witches and wizards
Not coming-of-age stories, not "in training" but witches and wizards who know about and are comfortable with their own powers.

4. Heists
I love a good con man or woman and I can never get enough of clever heist stories.

5. Books set in Norway/Scandinavia that aren't mystery books
Scandinavian mysteries are great, but I'd love to see my country used in other genres.

6. Books set in Scotland
I just love Scotland.

7. Friendships that don't turn into romance
Sometimes friends simply don't fall in love with each other.

8. Scott Lynch to finish the Gentleman Bastard Sequence
It took so long before the third book was published that I'm worried he'll never finish all seven before he dies.

9. More magical realism
Sarah Addison Allen does this so well and I wish there were more books with this element.

10. The Three Musketeers
I'm having a musketeer phase right now and I just want to read more about them!

What would you like to see more of in books?

Monday, January 20, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week.

I'm currently 2 books ahead of my Goodreads challenge - that hasn't happened in over a year! *proud* :)

Last week I read Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling. It was a quick and entertaining read; I particularly enjoyed Dumbledore's notes on each of the stories. I'm still sad I have no more new Harry Potter books to read.

I'm very excited about The Musketeers, a new TV series based on Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers which premiered on BBC One last night. I wanted to re-read Dumas' story but I was a bit intimidated by the size of it. Then I came across Death of a Musketeer by Sarah D'Almeida and the choice was easy. It is based on the characters from the original story and sees the musketeers and D'Artagnan trying to solve a murder mystery. It was an enjoyable story and I loved meeting the musketeers again. Read my review here.

I started Stiltskin by Andrew Buckley last night. It's a version of the classic fairy tales like no other I've ever come across and I'm loving it already.

Still waiting for Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and The Box of Red Brocade by Catherine Fisher. Hurry up, postman!

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thoughts on Death of a Musketeer

Death of a Musketeer
By Sarah D'Almeida

First published: 2006
Series: Musketeers Mystery # 1

Read: 14-17 January 2014

Amazon | Goodreads

A dead woman in an alley in the Paris of Louis XIII would not occasion much consternation. Unless the dead woman looked like the Queen of France and was discovered by Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan. Suspecting a plot of Cardinal Richelieu, the three musketeers and their new friend plunge into the investigation of murder, only to find that the matter is both stranger and more dangerous than they could have imagined. Caught in a web of intrigue and death, the four friends will have trouble staying alive, much less solving the crime. (Amazon)

My thoughts

I have been a huge fan of the story of The Three Musketeers ever since I saw the Disney movie with Kiefer Sutherland and Chris O'Donnell at the cinema in 1993 (still one of my favourite films). With the new BBC series The Musketeers starting tomorrow, I was looking for something to put me in the right mood when I came across Sarah D'Almeida's (better known as Sarah A. Hoyt) Death of a Musketeer, the first book in a series of five.

The book starts in the same way as Alexandre Dumas' original story, with D'Artagnan running into the musketeers and landing himself a duel with each of them. From there the story turns into a murder investigation when the comrades discover a beautiful woman in musketeer uniform dead in an alley.

The mystery itself ended up feeling a bit far-fetched with all the look-alikes and relations, and the climax didn't exactly make my heart race. But even if the main plot left a little to be desired, I enjoyed the characterizations that much more. The POV switches between each of the four main characters, and we get a look into their minds and backstories. Now, it's been many years since I read Dumas' story, so exactly how the details in Death of a Musketeer differ from the original, I can't say. But this doesn't matter anyway, as the information in D'Almeida's book fits nicely into her story. Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan are all portrayed just as I remember them, and their different personalities are easy to distinguish from each other.

The book is humourous with funny dialogue and the characters' observations of the others. I was frequently chuckling to myself over the bickering between the musketeers, and the running gag of Aramis "knowing a man":
"Aramis sighed. 'I know a man,' he said. Athos smiled, but managed not to say that this was strange as, in fact, Aramis normally knew women." 
Bottom line: As a murder mystery Death of a Musketeer could have been better, but the characters and humour make it well worth a read.

My rating:

Author online: Website | BlogTwitter

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week.

New year, new chances to read more. I was nowhere near reaching my reading goal for last year, but after the holidays I feel re-energized and ready to delve into my books again! :)

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know I've been talking about finishing the Harry Potter series for ages. Well, I've finally done it. I read the last page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows late last night. I never thought the series would have such a big impact on me when I started it about ten years ago, but truth is, I lay awake until the small hours of this morning thinking about it all. I'm really going to miss this series.

I wasn't quite ready to let go of Harry Potter's world, so I'm reading The Tales of Beedle the Bard right now. I expect I'll finish it tonight.

I really want to read Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple because I've hear so many good things about it. I 'm also dying to read The Box of Red Brocade by Catherine Fisher, the sequel to The Obsidian Mirror, which I read last year and loved. I've ordered both these books but they haven't arrived yet, and I'm not sure what to read in the meantime. Do you know any good waiting books? ;)

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness - Secret Santa Edition #RAK

At the end of last year I participated in Booksoulmates' Random Acts of Kindness, the Christmas edition. It was set up as a Secret Santa, and I received these goodies from my Secret Santa:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Thank you so much, Tobe (@TFrances)! Can't wait to read these!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

End of the Year Survey 2013

Happy New Year, everyone!

Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner is hosting this exciting survey for the fourth time, and although I didn't read as many books as I'd hoped in 2013, I had lots of fun filling out the survey.

Best in Books 2013

1. Best book you read in 2013?
Strangely enough there wasn't one particular book that stood out above the others (I gave 17 books 4 stars on Goodreads but none got 5). If I have to pick one of the 4-star books, I'll say The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke.

2. Book you were excited about and thought you'd love more but didn't?
The Orphanage of Miracles by Amy Neftzger. It sounded really exciting and it started out great, but somewhere along the line it sort of lost the pace and I started to get bored. The ending didn't satisfy me at all.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You by Ally Carter. I wasn't sure if this series was anything for me, but I ended up really enjoying it.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people the most?
The Lord of the Rings. You should read it.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?
The Judd Bell & Corey Purchase series by Steve Worland. I love a good thriller and these books are full of action, excitement and humour.

6. Favourite new author you discovered in 2013?
Diana Wynne Jones. I can't believe I've never read her before.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Outlaw Trail by Brian Fox. I like watching westerns, both films and TV shows, but I don't think I've ever read a book from the genre before. It probably helped that this book is based on the TV series Alias Smith and Jones, which is one of my faves.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?
Velocity by Steve Worland. Non-stop action.

9. Book you read in 2013 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
I don't usually re-read books until a few years ahve passed, but I think I'll re-read The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes before the next book in the series comes out.

10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2013?

11. Most memorable character in 2013?
Every character from The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes. They're all intriguing and colourful and unique in their own way. Amazing ensemble.

12. Most beautifully written book you read in 2013?
The Lord of the Rings.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. I saw a lot of myself in the main character, which felt good and sad at the same time.

14. Book you can't believe you waited until 2013 to read?
No one special, really.

15. Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2013?
This is quite random, because I never remember to write down quotes.

"Miracles are tougher than you think. It's only our belief in them that's fragile."
The Orphanage of Miracles by Amy Neftzger

16. Shortest and longest book you read in 2013?
Shortest: White Collar Christmas by Misty Evans (9 pages) (Does it even count?)
Longest: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1095 pages)

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it? (A WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
There's a plot twist in The Sacred Sword by Scott Mariani that I absolutely hate and made me want to scream.

18. Favourite relationship from a book you read in 2013 (be it romantic, friendship etc.)?
Atticus O'Sullivan and Oberon the Irish Wolfhound from Hammered by Kevin Hearne.

19. Favourite book you read in 2013 from an author you've read previously?
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen.

20. Best book you read in 2013 based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else?
Not a direct recommendation, but I'd heard so many good things about the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter around the blogosphere.

21. Genre you read the most from in 2013?
Fantasy (8 books)

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?
I think I'll have to say Corey Purchase (Velocity & Combustion by Steve Worland), the charming Australian who can talk to his dog.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?
Actually I don't think I read any debuts in 2013.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?
The dark and mysterious Venice in The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke.

25. Book that was the most fun to read in 2013?
Either Velocity by Steve Worland or The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes.

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2013?
None, I think. I'm so often sad or depressed in real life so I tend to avoid sad books.

27. Book you read in 2013 that you think got overlooked this year or when it came out?
I don't know how most of these were received, but I definitely think more people should read The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes. It's a brilliant heist story in the fantasy genre with memorable characters.

Looking Ahead...

1. One book you didn't get to in 2013 but will be your number 1 priority in 2014?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I've been meaning to finish the series for years but kept putting it off. I finally started it on New Year's Day. Only problem is, it's so good that now I don't want it to end! I also want to read Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. It's about time I find out what Locke and Jean are up to!

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2014 (non-debut)?
The sequel to The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher.

3. 2014 debut you are most anticipating?
I haven't had a chance to look into this year's debuts, so I don't know yet.

4. Series ending you are most anticipating in 2014?
Tbh I don't know if any of my series are ending this year!

5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging in 2014?
I simply want to read more than I did last year and also try to get my blog going again with more frequent reviews and other posts.

So that was my 2013! What were your favourite books from 2013?

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