A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (Book 1 in A Song of Ice and Fire)

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

It’s been a couple years since I actually read this book, but as I’m attempting to read book 4 (big book, little time=very slow progress), I decided to go back and write a review. I had originally planned to review the series all at once, but plans change.

I first began this book on audiotape. My boyfriend at the time and I were going camping in Big Bear and we started playing it in the car to pass the hours.

I was immediately intrigued by the opening passages about the white walkers. My interest grew from there. Once we got back home, I drove to the bookstore and bought the book because I had to read the rest. We’d only gotten about a hundred or so pages in, so I still had a lot to read.

And yes, the audio book is also good.

This book introduces you to a huge cast of characters, a sprawling world, a complex history, a war of religions, and almost anything else you can think of. Tyrion was my favorite character in this book, a spot he still retains. I also love Daenerys.

Despite the immense size of the book and the steep learning curve of the world-building, this first entry in the spectacular series is engaging, accessible, and immensely entertaining. George R.R. Martin is quite a writer. Always, I found my jaw literally dropping at the perfection of the placement of some particular phrases or events. Yes, the series is raw, bloody, horrifying, and full of sex. But isn’t life?

After I finished the book, I moved on to the show. Also, so perfect. Peter Dinklage is the most perfect Tyrion. He somehow made the character even better, improving on perfection.

Seriously guys, if you haven’t managed to read the books or watch the show, get on it. Pronto.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest–to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past then she could have ever imagined.

This is a book I’ve had sitting around for a long time. Despite being so excited to buy it, I only just now got around to reading it. Howe’s novel had the perfect recipe of things I love in books: mystery, history, a tiny bit of supernatural, and a scholarly taste to it.

I liked this book well enough though I felt it could have been much longer. I felt that Howe only scratched the surface a bit with this one. The house in Marblehead was just so enchanting and gorgeous, I didn’t want the book to end because I didn’t want to leave it!

As summer comes upon us, I would definitely label this a beach read for people who don’t like beach reads. Just intellectual enough, but not complicated or difficult to follow. The plot chugs along at a good clip, rarely slowing or lulling.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Fictional Schools

As always, TTT is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s theme was a freebie, so I decided on Top Ten Favorite Fictional Schools (which is an extension of settings. Boarding schools also happen to be one of my favorite settings/topics in books.

1. Hogwarts (Harry Potter series)

2. Easton Academy (Private series)

3. Waverly Prep (It Girl series)

4. Spence Academy (A Great and Terrible Beauty series)

5. Atherton-Pryce Hall (Privilege series)

6. Gallagher Academy (Gallagher Girls series)

7. Wexford (The Name of the Star)

8. Wakefield Hall (Kisses and Lies series)

9. Ault School (Prep)

10. Alabaster Prep (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks)

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Maureen Johnson is an author I’d enjoyed in the past, but kind of forgot I liked. I saw The Name of the Star mentioned on another book blog some time ago and purchased it on my Kindle. I started it when I found in need of some distraction during my lunch break.

Johnson has a very engaging style that is every bit in evidence here. I really enjoyed the character of Rory… From her first chapter, I loved her stories about her eccentric family in the south. She was overall a great lead.

The storyline was intriguing and great… Someone is repeating the Jack the Ripper murders. I loved the mix of history in this YA, set in an old city, at a boarding school (honestly, she had me at boarding school). The time period of the history is also one of my favorites… Victorian.

Supernatural twist: Did not see that coming/ was not prepared for it. But it totally made the book great.

I’m stoked to read the next books in this new series. The Name of the Star was pretty addicting and I’m sure the others in the trilogy will be as well, knowing Johnson’s writing.

The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn’t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book. . . . Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of “extraordinary depth and beauty”.

This book is definitely in the running for my favorite book of 2013. Just a beautiful, beautiful novel.

Exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to be reading when you’re trying to edit your own novel. But I digress.

This is a novel I can see myself reading over and over. I’m actually itching to read it again because the storyline is a little confusing. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, in different styles, during different points of history, and all scrambled together.

But somehow, it just works.

Without giving much away (because really, you should just go read this book) I liked all of the characters, all of their individual stories, and how they pull together into a whole. I especially love the chapters that were dedicated to Alma Singer. I like the style of tiny vignettes. And the sections that were purported to come from The History of Love were also amazing. I wish it was a real book I could go off and read and die happy reading.

But most of all, I loved how quotable this book was. You could drop it open to any page and find something worth underlining. Truly. Nicole Krauss is an amazing writer and I look forward to reading more of her work.

I also think I just found a new literary hero.

Side note: Someone recommended this to me and I have no idea who. If you think it was you, please let me know!!

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town—and the family—Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.”

If that first line doesn’t make you sit down and take notice, nothing will. From the very beginning of the book, it is clear that this is an unconventional story. Made all the more unconventional by the fact that hers is a true story.

I wouldn’t recommend reading this book if you’re also working on/trying to write your own book: you might just feel like giving up. Walls’s writing is rich and powerful, sophisticated and tender. She tells a difficult story with a beautiful brush. As she moves from innocent child, for whom her parents are God, to independent adult, who almost pities them, her narrative style never wavers. Her story is generous and harsh in all the right places. While her parents were far from perfect and her childhood years even less so, we are never given the sense that Walls particularly regrets the past. Rather, she almost looks on it as a sad and distant adventure.

There is no question that it irrevocably shaped who she is. But perhaps, it was for the better. To triumph over such deep adversity, truly, that makes a person.

I loved the idea of “The Glass Castle”, what it represents, how it keeps coming back in the story, and ultimately, that Walls chose to title her memoir The Glass Castle.

Between that first line and this last line, lies an extraordinary book.

“A wind picked up, rattling the windows, and the candle flames suddenly shifted, dancing along the border between turbulence and order.”

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you.

All because you did the right thing.

Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She’s been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who’s pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth.

And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

This is not the first time I’ve discussed having a book on your shelf for literally years (I would say a good five for this one), only to finally take it down, read it, and be completely blown away.

Blown. Away.

As usual with highly-charged issues, I don’t want this to devolve into a discussion or intelligent design vs. evolution vs. a combo of the two. I just want to talk about this book, which happens to handle that subject with a delicacy and aplomb rarely seen.

Mena was the perfect protagonist for this book. She feels as we all feel….sometimes you can’t just stop life from battering you on all sides. She feels like crumbling. Routinely. She doesn’t consider herself to be a strong person. And she’s not. But there is strength in her ability to get up and go to school every day, especially when her parents are freezing her out, too.

Then, Mena comes into contact with some amazing, passionate, devoted people, and her life changes. She evolves, for lack of a better word. Mena learns that she is more than she thinks she is and that she can be whatever she wants to be. More importantly, she learns that there are sides to everything. That sometimes middle ground isn’t an illusion created by people who want peace. Sometimes it’s a valid argument and an even more valid territory to occupy.

All of the characters were well-drawn and complex, even Mena’s ex-friends. People can be misguided and hurtful, but it doesn’t mean they’re evil. They just don’t see any alternative to believing what they believe. They don’t see grey areas or middle ground or any validity in another’s viewpoint. But it doesn’t make them evil.

265 pages that completely blew me away. Whatever your opinions on the subject matter, pick this book up for a fun, exhilarating, and well-crafted read.