I am not good at remembering things. Maybe I “live in the moment too much,” or am just oblivious. Maybe there’s a little something wrong with me. Whatever it is, I have very few memories, when I compare myself to those people who seem to remember everything from their past very vividly. One of the things I do remember, and love remembering, is the way I felt when I first read one of my favorite books.

I therefore remember with great fondness my first reading of Sabriel by Garth Nix. It’s one of the books that served to cement my love of reading. I first read it in eight grade.  My parents had just split up, and the library was a refuge that felt consistent and safe when everything in life was (I felt) crashing down around my ears. These were the formative years, when I began to really understand what growing up meant: life is hard. I was going to have to eventually make tough choices. I was going to have to decide on a direction. I was going to have to say yes or no to bigger things than pizza for dinner. The books I read and loved at this point in my life were very important, and each one was a stepping-stone on the path to the person I am today.

Enter Sabriel: spine crackling with the plastic protection of hardbound library books, smelling faintly of dust and age. Only maybe seven years old, but already showing the first faint red spots of foxing. It would be very difficult to describe the way I felt when I first read this book. Perhaps it was the shiver at the first mention of the darkness of Kerrigor, or the swelling feeling of my own adventure and heroism as I read of Sabriel’s courageous exploits. Perhaps it was the first feeling of being a grown-up, seeing the words “penis” and “sex” written blatantly on the page. From the first page to the last, I loved Sabriel, the girl and the book, and have always held her in the back of my mind.

On a recent excursion to Half Price, I found a relatively nice mass market copy of Sabriel hiding on a shelf in the very top corner (being tall has its benefits), with the original gold foil title and gorgeous painting of the original cover. Immediately, seeing her name on the spine and Kerrigor’s dark form lurking behind her blue-garbed figure, I felt the shiver of adventure-to-come, and knew I had to have it. Just a day later I learned that Nix was just about to release the 4th book in the series, and I knew it was time to re-read.

The reading was twice as good as an adult. I’d forgotten all the details and nuances that make it such a lovely book, in the decade plus since I’d read it last. Mogget, the sardonic white cat who is much more than he appears. The stoic yet handsome Touchstone, the faithful Paperwing, and the ever-present buzz of fear that lurks with the dead in the shadows. The magic of the Charter. The perversion of necromancy, and the benevolently protective power of the Abhorsen. If you’re looking for an adventure that will stand out both for the beauty of its prose and the creativity of its story, this novel is a great place to start. And if you do fall in love with the world of the Old Kingdom, there are three more books to enjoy when you finish Sabriel. Good news for lovers of magic and adventure.

The Gone-Away World


I find it interesting that a review on the cover of this Nick Harkaway novel states that it “reads like a surrealist smashup of Pynchon and Pratchett, Vonnegut and Heller…” Considering that I hate 3/4 of those authors and have never even heard of the fourth, I was startled to find that I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK. It just goes to show that reviews mean nothing and I should probably stop writing.

There is nothing in this book to dislike. It’s got a brilliant plot and likeable characters, and it’s witty as hell.  The nameless narrator extrapolates endlessly, but somehow it doesn’t annoy. It’s always fascinating backstory and hilarious anecdotes. Yet despite all the hilarity, this book is dark. And sad. It leaves you feeling a little bit hollow because it makes you realize, better than most, how quickly the world can change and take everything that makes sense with it.

I read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, and as much as I like the concept, a lot of it has begun to read the same. This book completely broke the mold and gave me something entirely new to explore. An apocalypse that involves ninjas, literal dream-monsters, and the most terrifying bombs you’ve ever heard of.  This novel can make you laugh out loud and the next moment be afraid to go to sleep. I plan on reading a lot more of this author’s work. He’s an excellent writer that deserves a lot of attention.

Because this is one of the best books I’ve ever read, I’m not giving away anything about the plot. Just please trust me when I say that you absolutely must read it.

13.57 through 13.61


13.57–Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This is a great book for video game lovers, but also for the rest of us as well.  It’s a fantastic sci-fi that’s extremely unique.  The world as we know it has been wiped out by climate change and war.  People live in extreme filth and poverty, with the exception of a few lucky, wealthy citizens.  In order to escape their harsh reality, most people spend all of their time in a virtual reality world called The Oasis.  When the billionaire creator of The Oasis, the richest man in the world, dies, he launches a massive “egg” hunt within The Oasis.  Whomever can solve his three riddles and find the treasure will win his entire fortune and take over his company.  One boy manages to crack the first riddle after years of no progress, and becomes the target of every wicked and greedy treasure hunter.  Suddenly, this game becomes life or death.

This novel (by a Texan! Woo!) is so incredibly well written.  Wade Watts is the protagonist and the narrator, and his voice serves the plot well.  He’s funny and smart, but a hopeless (and kind of adorable) geek.  His crush on the girl of his dreams leads him to form an alliance with her, and she’s a valuable ally and support for him.  It’s a great story of friendship and loyalty, and will please gamers everywhere with its references to popular and obscure games alike.


13.58–Doll Bones by Holly Black

This is a nice, creepy story for middle grade readers.  Poppy is being haunted by a china doll, and when she and her friends investigate the doll’s history, they discover that it is inhabited by the restless ghost of a murdered child. The friends launch a quest to give rest to the child’s soul.  Though it’s nothing near as haunting as a Mary Downing Hahn book, it’s still a nice addition to the children’s horror genre, which is sadly lacking in new material.  I liked it and would recommend it to kids who are looking for a good ghost story.


13.59–Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

This book was terrible.  Don’t even bother.  It’s sad, because it’s about a kid with cancer, and it feels wrong to knock it, but…that’s life.  The narrator is poorly written and the plot was uninteresting.  It felt like it wanted to be The Fault in Our Stars, but it fell sadly short.


13.60–Loki’s Wolves by K. L. Armstrong and M. A. Marr

This book draws attention to Norse mythology, which seems to have been overshadowed lately by Greek, Roman, and Egyptian.  The story is exciting and creative, and the character conflict adds an extra layer of intrigue.  The descendants of Thor and Loki, two boys who are rivals, must decide if they can work together to save the world, or if they are destined to destroy it as once their warring god-ancestors did.  Diction and syntax could have been better, but it was still a great story that I would recommend for kids (also middle-grade readers).


13.61–A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

I really want to see more by this author. This is a wonderful novel for children told in multiple voices.  It truly is a tangled plot, but it’s wonderful how it all comes together in the end.  In a world where everyone has a Talent, one child wonders if she will ever discover her own, and another girl, an orphan with a Talent for baking who wonders if anyone will ever adopt her.  Their worlds collide and both will find more than they ever thought possible.  It is such a feel-good book it just warms you from the inside out.  The best part?  Between every chapter is a recipe for a delightful dessert. I’ve tried several and they’re all so yummy! I love hand-selling this one.  It’s a sweet novel that kids will love.

13.56–The Ocean at the End of the Lane


If Neil Gaiman hadn’t already been one of my favorite authors, this book would have landed him a firm spot that list.  At this point I would say that he is very near the top. I can’t possibly capture how beautiful this novel is, and I loved it from start to finish.

Perhaps the only disappointment is how very thin the volume is.  I want more from Gaiman.  More more more.  But it is what it is and it was beautiful nonetheless.   There is something about Gaiman’s novels that sets them apart from anyone else’s–a feeling one gets while reading them that what he’s writing is actually truth, and one should keep a wary eye out for the supernatural that exists all around us.  It is at once somber and fascinating, mysterious and illuminating. I find myself often wanting to shake Gaiman’s hand (or give him a big hug, because, let’s be honest, he’s awesome and I love him) for A) opening my eyes to the miraculous world, both seen and unseen around me and B) providing me with a delightful reading experience every time I crack the spine of one of his novels.

The little boy in this novel could easily be the little boy down the street, or your own little boy, or even you.  He’s an everyday, un-special character whose life is changed for a brief period of time when a man commits suicide in a car down the street.  The violent act awakens a great evil whose malice, until that point, had been contained.  Suddenly, his comfortable, sleepy world is shattered, and fear lurks everywhere.  When even his family ceases to be a refuge, he finds unusual allies in the women that live in a house down the street–strange women who claim that the pond in their field is, in fact, an ocean that they crossed long ago from the old country.   The magical women in this story are ancient and wise, their immense power springing from their being supernatural.  The evil in the story is older seemingly than time itself, and knows how to worm its way into every human mind and heart.  All this is set in a grey and dismal landscape that matches the brooding, fearful plot.

Perhaps I say this every time I write about him, but I love Gaiman’s effortless creativity.  If he strains to think of something unique or moving, there is no evidence of it in his final draft.  This book is no exception to that rule.  Though he uses mythology as a foundation, he makes it his own, giving it his signature twist. Let us all take a moment and worship at the altar of Gaiman.

Now that that’s over, I must recommend this book to everyone.  Perhaps you don’t love fantasy but you appreciate story. Or horror. Or cerebral novels. Or simple beauty.  Gaiman is a natural, incredibly gifted storyteller, and this novel especially, I feel, can appeal to a wide audience.  Five stars for this one.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to read it again.

13.55–The Paris Wife

Cookie Monster (seriously, who are you?) likes to leave comments on my blog, and he reminded me that it’s been too stinking long since I kept up with this.  I’m sorry to the friends who loyally follow this blog. I’m not used to reading at such high volume, and the reason I haven’t been writing is because I don’t know how to keep up with what I’ve read! I’m at 89 books for the year so far, so I’m majorly behind on the blogging!


The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is one of those books that evokes the whole spectrum of emotions: romantic feelings, sighing tenderness, hope, adoration of the characters, and then a slow fade to disbelief, frustration, despair, anger, and finally hatred.  I actually listened to this in audiobook format because I really feel like long drives are a waste of reading time.  Does anyone else feel that way?  So I listened to it in the car on the long drives between my parents’ city and my own, and back and forth to work.  It was a good way to take the book in, getting the added depth to the characters by hearing their voices.

Of course, being a historical novel about people who actually lived (Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson), there is no way for the author to change the course of proven events.  Their beginning was a happy one, incredibly romantic. Hemingway was a rogue and a charmer, but he fell for her truly and deeply.  They moved to Paris in the early years of their marriage, and as his fame grew were introduced and became friends with some truly famous people (F. Scott Fitzgerald sound familiar?). I was almost as in love with him as Hadley way.  But he was an unhappy, restless man, and a pawn of the times and his fame. His love for her, while never seeming to diminish, changed so thoroughly that she couldn’t ultimately endure it.  It’s a sad ending to so enchanting a couple.  I feel fine saying all of this because, of course, he was married multiple times in real life.

By the end of the novel, I hated him almost as much as I hate his novels.  He was a lost man, and in being so he was absolutely detestable.  Hadley was a sweet girl, but incredibly naive, even into her womanhood.  In this way she was absolutely infuriating.  She endured his behavior for far too long, and it made me so sad.  Their beginning was so lovely and wonderful, which made their ending so much sadder.

The audiobook is very well produced, and Carrington MacDuffie reads the voices very well.  I don’t have a lot of experience with audiobooks (I prefer the tangible, page-turning variety), but I was very happy being able to “read” while I was driving.  I can’t judge if it was a good audiobook compared to others, because it’s only about the third audiobook I’ve ever experienced.  But I enjoyed it, so I’d recommend it.

It’s a good book.  It kept my attention throughout and made me feel a lot of different things.  The characters are well-developed, as is the plot, and despite my frustrations I liked the book.  I also liked that it served to reinforce my detestation of Ernest Hemingway.  Thanks for validating my feelings, Ms. McLain.


15818254Jinx by Sage Blackwood is one of the best new fantasies for kids I’ve read in a good long time.  This one got a lot of buzz before it came out (at least at our store), and all of our people in charge of buying and promoting kids books were raving about it.  It definitely lived up to its reputation.  I loved it!

Jinx is an orphan, of sorts, who lives with two step-parents who hate him.  One day, his step-father takes him out into the forest–called the Urwald–that surrounds their village, intending to leave him there.  Jinx, knowing that bad things happen to those who step off the path, is frightened.  But salvation comes from an unexpected source, and Jinx’s life will never again be as he knew it.

There are several things to love about this book:

1) The plot has everything a good fantasy adventure book needs.  There is plenty of action, magic, secrecy, suspense, betrayal, and redemption.  I liked that the romantic element was missing.  It was, refreshingly, more about the love between a boy and the man he would like to think of as a father.

2) The characters are great.  They are well-rounded, amusing, have good rapport and believable interactions established between them, and are easy to feel either love, hate, or confusion for.  Jinx is the best, of course, but the sometimes-wicked, sometimes-lovable Simon Magus is a close second.  Blackwood recreates those tense years of our childhood, when our parents or guardians gave us instructions and we did the exact opposite.  Their relationship is constantly in flux, and, in addition to the magical adventure that we’re actually reading the book for, we also become engrossed in how their relationship will stand at the end.

3) It is a unique magical adventure! I get so tired of authors piggy-backing on the successful models that other authors have created.  While many seem to borrow obvious tidbits from Tolkien or Rowling or others, Blackwood has created a frightening, beautiful, magical world based on nothing other than his or her (obviously this is a pen name…the author photo on Goodreads is a tree…) imagination, and perhaps the imaginative inspirations caused by reading the Brothers Grimm and the like.

It has been a long time since I read a book quite like this.  It possesses both the classic feel of the fantasies we loved to read as children, and a fresh contemporary treatment of magic and family relationships.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

Two Works of Non-Fiction


13.53–The Black Count by Tom Reiss

This historical work is the fascinating story of the real Count of Monte Cristo.  In a time when most of the world viewed people with dark skin as savages and lesser species, France was miles ahead of the pack.  Blacks could own land and have titles, and that’s precisely what Alexandre Dumas (senior) did.  He began his military career young and rose quickly through the ranks due to his size and his cunning.  Tom Reiss did fantastic research on this fascinating story, wading through the highly romanticized accounts of the Count written by his son, the famous author Alexandre Dumas (junior).  I highly recommend this history book to any fan of the colonial era and warfare.


13.54–The Good Nurse by  Charles Graeber

This is the true, twisted tale of nurse Charlie Cullen, who over the course of a 16 year career murdered an estimated 300 patients.  Graeber takes his reader through the severely disturbed personal and professional life of this serial killer.  Finding clever ways to get medicines into otherwise healthy patients’ blood streams, he put them down like animals.  All the while, hospitals fired him on grounds of unusual behavior or harassing the female staff, but no one ever bothered to investigate the mysterious deaths of healthy patients.  It’s a fascinating look into the life and mind of a man without conscience, and despite the disturbing nature of its contents, I highly recommend it.