Monday, April 30, 2018

Two quirky books from my TBR shelf...

In The Undead World of Oz, Ryan C. Thomas takes L. Frank Baum's classic children's story and gives it a fun zombie twist. Because of an evil curse by the Wicked Witch of the West, the undead of Oz have risen and they want brains. Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardl yLion must fight off the undead as they journey down the yellow brick road to see the Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz.

I grew up loving L. Frank Baum's Oz books, which is why I couldn't resist buying this slightly twisted version. It's a little dark, has some humorous moments, and lots of flying body parts, and it made me smile and shake my head at the same time. Zombies and Oz really don't go together, but somehow in this quirky, crazy read Thomas makes it work.

It's a great cover, isn't it? I spotted it at a library discard sale and couldn't resist buying it. In The Doctor and the Dinosaurs, Mike Resnick combines an eclectic cast of historical figures. It begins with Geronimo, who enlists the help of a dying Doc Holliday to stop the two most famous fossil hunters in the world from doing their digging in the sacred burial ground of the Commanche. If he doesn't, the Commanche medicine men are going to raise a real dinosaur or two to take care of the problem themselves. Teddy Roosevelt joins Doc Holliday in his quest, and Thomas Edison provides the firepower.

It's a fun premise, but there was too much talking and not enough action for me. Plus, it took way too long for the dinosaurs to appear; and there should have been a lot more of them. I mean, I was promised dinosaurs! But I felt like they never even showed up. I did really like Doc Holliday, though. And since I only paid 50 cents for this book, I'd still say it was money well spent. Best of all? That's two books on longer sitting on my TBR pile making me feel guilty.

So, there you are, the two quirkiest books from my TBR shelf. Now that I've finally read them, the only question left is what book from my TBR shelf should I read next. What about you? What quirky gems are hiding in your TBR piles?

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Broken Girls

Simone St. James is one of my favorite authors. I love the haunting, suspenseful atmosphere she always manages to create and how her novels are that perfect combination of ghost story and mystery. Her latest, The Broken Girls, is no exception. The narrative alternates between 1950 and 2014 and involves the murders of two girls. There's more, of course, but I feel like pretty much everyone has already read and reviewed this one, so I thought I'd just mention a few of the things I liked best about it:

The Setting:  Idlewild Hall, an isolated boarding school in Vermont for girls that no one else wants. (It also happens to be haunted.)

The main character/narrator:  Fiona Sherida, a freelance writer whose sister was murdered 20 years ago. She's stubborn and fiercely independent and determined to uncover the secrets of Idlewild Hall.

The ghost:  the mysterious Mary Hand, who roams the grounds of Idlewild, bringing people's worst nightmares to life. But who was she in real life?

If you couldn't tell, I liked this one a lot! It's fast-faced, deftly written and practically impossible to put down once you start. The boarding school girls and Fiona are all great characters....I was quickly drawn into their stories, and found myself liking each and every one. And the ghost? She's great, too. I just wish she'd had more of a presence. This book felt more weighted on the mystery side of things than the supernatural this time around. But it's still a great read, with a satisfying ending. So...

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April's Bookish Art...

Harold Harvey -- Holiday 
"I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy.  And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child.  I still believe in stories.  I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same.  Books are, for me...the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything.  And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books."
--Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bookish fun...

Title & Author:  The Grave's A Fine And Private Place by Alan Bradley

First lines:  I am on my deathbed. Again. Although I have done everything in my power to survive it, it has not been enough. A human being can only bear so much.

Plot:  Still reeling from a recent family tragedy, Flavia and her older sisters are sent on holiday together with Dogger, their loyal family servant. They're boating when Flavia unexpectedly fishes a dead body from the river. Now she and Dogger are determined to investigate this suspicious death, whether the local police want their help or not. Because nothing cheers twelve-year-old Flavia up quite like murder...and the chemistry of poisons.

My thoughts:  I spent last weekend happily ensconced in Alan Bradley's latest Flavia de Luce mystery. It's the ninth book in this series and I thought it was a lot of fun. While still irrepressible and full of spunk, Flavia seemed a little less impetuous, a little wiser, and a little more grown up this time around. And I really liked that Dogger played a bigger role in this story; he's always been a favorite character of mine. I also liked that Flavia and her sister, Daffy, actually got along better in this one; it was fun seeing them work together for a change. All in all, The Grave's A Fine and Private Place is another well-written and entertaining mystery from Alan Bradley. (But if you've never read a Flavia mystery before, start with the first one! Because this series is best read in order.)

Happy Reading!

Other Flavia reviews:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April = National Poetry Month

Instead of revisiting some of my favorite poets this month (ie. Frost, Stafford, Teasdale, Millay, Noyes, Poe, Parker, Plath and Hughes), I decided to try someone new. Two someones. And I'm glad I did. Because I found new favorite poems in both collections.

the princess saves herself in this one
            by amanda lovelace

ah, life--
the thing
that happens
to us
while we're off
somewhere else
blowing on
& wishing
ourselves into
the pages of
our favorite
 fairy tales.

the princess i was born
a little bookmad.

i could be found stroking
the spines of my books

while i sat locked alone                                                 
inside my tower bedroom.

all the while, i hoped my books
would spill their exquisite words

over the lush green carpet
so i could collect them one by one

& savor them like
berries inside my mouth

              --forever a collector of words

The Rose That Grew From Concrete
by Tupac Shakur

If I Fail

If in my quest 2 achieve my goals
I stumble or crumble and lose my soul
Those that knew me would easily co-sign
There was never a life as hard as mine
No father--no money--no chance and no guide
I only follow my voice inside
if it guides me wrong and I do not win
I'll learn from mistakes and try 2 achieve again.

In the Even of My Demise
    (Dedicated 2 those curious)

In the event of my demise
when my heart can beat no more
I Hope I Die For a Principle
or A Belief that I had lived 4
I will die Before my Time
Because I feel the shadow's Depth
So much I wanted 2 accomplish
Before I reached my Death
I have come 2 grips with the possibility
and wiped the last tear from my eyes
I LOVED ALL who were Positive
In the event of my Demise!

So, here's to reading some good poetry this month!
(And if you leave a comment, be sure to tell me your favorite poet.)

Happy Reading!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Highlights from my trip...

The pyramids...cause it's Egypt!

Me at Abu Simbel. (Gotta love the hat!)

'Cause I love those birds...
even the stone ones.

The enigmatic Sphinx.

Panel of hieroglyphs at Philae Temple.

Hot air ballooning over the West Bank of the Nile near Luxor.

Pillars at Kom Ombo
Queen Hatshepsut at Deir al-Bahri

View of the Nile from our boat.

Meet Egypt:  a crazy mix of ancient and modern!
My favorite street in Old Cairo:
a street lined with books.

Another street in Old Cairo.
Although I have tons more pictures from my trip, 
I tried to choose just a few of my favorites, because
there's no way I can post ALL the photos I took.
So last of all (but certainly not least), here's the golden mask 
of Tutankhamun from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo:

'Cause it's just not Egypt without the boy king.
That's All Folks!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

From the J Shelf...

I was actually on my way to the H shelf to try to find my next alphabetical read, but as I passed by the J shelf there was a series of paperbacks with colorful spines and one-word titles right at eye level that caught my attention. And I had to stop and check them out. Needless to say, I never made it to the H shelf; I came home with this novel by Benedict Jacka instead. But then, that's what bookish serendipity is all about.

Title & Author:  Fated by Benedict Jacka
Genre:  Urban Fantasy
Setting:  London
First line:  "It was a slow day, so I was reading a book at my desk and seeing into the future."

(My new favorite) main character:  Alex Verus, diviner, mage, and owner of a shop in Camden Town called The Arcana Emporium. He's quick-witted and resourceful, and he can see into the future, or at least several possibilities of it. He also has a talent for staying alive. Which is a good thing considering he's not on great terms with the Council of Mages. (Even though they sometimes need his help.) The dark mages don't like him much either, but he's never let that stop him yet.

My thoughts:  This is an awesome urban fantasy read. It's well-plotted, fast-paced and fun, with cool magic, an intriguing mystery and lots of suspense; there's plenty of great secondary characters, too. In fact, there isn't anything I didn't like about this book.  Jacka has created a world I can't wait to visit again. Which is why I'm off to the library to check out the second books in this series.

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 9, 2018

A bookish update...

I'm back from my trip!

Egypt was amazing! I loved the temples at Abu Simbel and Edfu. And going inside several of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. And seeing the pyramids for myself. I ate yummy koshari, kebab and kofta (some delicious Egyptian food). I even got to take a hot air balloon ride over Luxor and Karnak. It was a great trip, and I took a ton of pictures ... I just haven't had time to go through them all yet. (I spent the weekend unpacking and sleeping instead.) But I promise to post some of my favorites when I'm not feeling quite so jet-lagged.

Birding update:
I saw about 21 different kinds of birds in Egypt, 16 of which I could identify, and 12 that were new birds I could add to my birding list. We had one afternoon when our boat was cruising down the Nile from Edfu to Luxor and I spent most of that time spotting birds along the way (when I wasn't reading Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile). But the very first bird that I saw in Egypt was actually in Cairo in the courtyard of our hotel.  A hoopoe:

Isn't it cute? My other favorite bird of the trip, besides all the carrion crows we saw everywhere and the brown raven I spotted at Kom Ombo, was the pied kingfisher. I saw several of these fast-flying birds darting past our boat in search of food: 

(I actually didn't take these photos, but I did see these birds!)

Book read before my trip:

This latest Lady Darby mystery takes Kiera and her husband to Langstone Manor, the home of Viscount Tavisock, Sebastian Gage's maternal grandfather. Family secrets vie with local superstitions as the two search the moors for Gage's missing cousins. I really love this series, and these two characters. And A Brush With Shadows is no exception. 
Anna Lee Huber has done it again!

Also read:

I didn't have time to post about this one before my trip either, but it was Kathy's recommendation that made me want to read this (interesting, if slightly outdated) May Sarton novel in the first place; so if you want to know more about The Small Room, be sure to check out her excellent review.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Egypt in Fiction

The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips

I read this book years ago and I still smile every time I think about it.  Written through a series of journal entries and letters, this odd and quirky epistolary novel is set in Egypt in the 1920s. It centers around a young archaeologist who is determined to find the lost tomb of Atum-hadu and prove his love for Margaret, the girl he left behind in Boston, even if he has to create the tomb himself. This novel is inventive, unexpected, darkly funny, and utterly unforgettable.

King and Goddess by Judith Tarr

Born the daughter of Tuthmosis I, then married to Tuthmosis II, Hatshepsut lived a truly interesting life. When her husband died, she was declared regent for her young stepson, Tuthmosis III. Instead, she claimed the crown, declared herself king and Pharoah, and ruled the land of Egypt for twenty years. Not only does this book tell the amazing story of an amazing woman, it also gives you the flavor of life in Ancient Egypt. I loved it. Tarr's writing is historical fiction at its best.

Other awesome Egyptian reads:

Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi
The Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Great non-fiction reads on Egypt...

The Nile:  A Journey Downriver Through Egypt's Past and Present by Toby Wilkinson

This is a fascinating and very readable book that starts in Aswan and takes you all the way to Cairo, stopping at all the important sites along the Nile. I loved Wilkinson's writing and all his fun facts and stories. And I learned a lot. If you're interested in Egypt at all, I highly recommend this book.

Down the Nile:  Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney

This great read chronicles Mahoney's own trip down the Nile....alone in a small boat that she rows herself. (It sounds crazy, I know.) The people she meets and the sites she sees are so interesting. I like to read this kind of travel memoir, probably because I'm not brave enough to do something this adventurous and mad myself! But I'm glad Mahoney is.

The Seventy Great Mysteries of Ancient Egypt edited by Bill Manley

From the riddles of the sphinx to the lost tomb of
Amenhotep I to the Tutankhamen conspiracy, this tome covers many of the questions and mysteries of Egypt. It has short chapters and lots of beautiful color photographs. Best of all, if you're not interested in the chapters on royal boats or Necho and his fleet, you can just skip them.  I did!

Happy Reading!