The Last Ballad

I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Last Ballad.

Wiley Cash breathes life into the story of a textile mill worker during the 1920’s. Cash masterfully tells the life of Ella Mae Wiggins with the modern reader in mind. Themes in this novel, such as the systematic oppression of a group of people, racism, the difficulty of rising out of poverty, are issues we still face in our society today. Perhaps that is why this almost ninety-year-old story feels so relevant today.

From the first page, the reader is engrossed by the story unravelling on each page. Cash intertwines several voices, creating depth and dimensions to a story rarely covered in history class. The characters are compelling and each of their stories is haunting, staying with the reader long after the novel is complete.

Be good to each other,
A Bookish Girl

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Rough & Tumble

Rhenna Morgan

I must confess that I have never entered the realm of romance novels. I avoided it and believed the stigma. I thought all romance novels were unrealistic fantasies created by women disconnected with reality seeking a man to make their troubles disappear. I decided to set aside that prejudice and try romance after reading a truly awful NYT romance write up. I stumbled across Rough & Tumble in the Goodreads giveaways. The summary intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try.

I am glad that I put my preconceived notions aside. Rhenna Morgan has written an incredible story and beginning to a series with the Haven Brotherhood. The characters are fully developed and the relationship, although quick, is realistic. Morgan tells an action-driven story of electric attraction that keeps you captivated until the last page. I devoured this book in an afternoon and really enjoyed my first adventure into romance novels.

What surprised me the most is how reading a romance novel influenced me. I felt more confident and a lot more comfortable talking about intimate wants and desires. Romance novels are not for women trying to escape into the perfect man to fix their lives. Romance novels are for us all to enjoy. There are so many types and flavours of romance novels: you can find some to build you up, some to escape in to, some to learn from, some to try something new. The stigma is not fair and only hurts the reader who holds onto it. I would suggest trying a romance novel to give you freedom and confidence in an area we all enjoy but often are too shy or uncomfortable to address.

I am glad I opened myself up to a new genre with so much to offer.

Be kind to one another out there,
A Bookish Girl

The Shattered Sea Series

Joe Abercrombie

The series begins with a coming of age tale without any apologies for being the archetypical adventure of an underdog becoming a hero. The king’s second son is a cripple with the prowess of a deer having smelled a wolf. It is this child’s story we follow until he becomes a cunning leader of men. His story is the thread that keeps all the books together. Both the collective series and the individual books that make up this trilogy are outstanding. Abercrombie is a fine craftsman and it shows in his stunning world-building, masterful characterisation, and gripping storylines.

The First Law trilogy (and related novels) can be bleak at times, which is not the case with the Shattered Sea books. Although properly dark and twisted with the true reflection of humanity, Abercrombie lets you keep hope throughout the series. In some ways, that hope makes this series arguably better than the First Law series.

Abercrombie just has a way of taking you into his world and spinning a story that is just right. The secondary characters are strong, fully developed. The world is complete. The battles are gruesome and detailed. The females are whole people. The villains have depth. The heroes have darkness. Everything is just right in an Abercrombie tale. I cannot adequately describe it, but it is there. If you pick up his books, you’ll know what I mean before you finish the first novel.

Be kind.
A Bookish Girl

The Tainted Crown

Meg Cowley

As the first book in the series, this novel has far more action than anticipated. Typically any fantasy series sees a lot of setup in the first novel. Although you get the feeling that setup is occurring throughout the story – a lack of plot twists and a few unanswered questions – you are not overwhelmed by intricate world-building or character introductions. I rather enjoyed this approach.

I felt the writing was blunt in areas. World-building in this story is very cut and dry, which forces the reader to focus on the unfolding story and character relationships. I do feel this takes away from experience a bit. That being said, Cowley does not skimp on creating Caledan- I just like it slightly more poetic. A bit of poetry while setting the scene would make a 4-star into 5-star series.

Cowley writes wonderful characters, which is reason enough to read this series. The evil is suitably dark and drunk for power. The good is not perfect, which makes it plausible and likeable. These are characters that stay with you even after the book has been set down. A good deal of internal monologues occurs throughout the series – the type of ruminating you revisit in your own life.

Overall, a great first novel in the series. I would suggest starting with the novella. It took very little time to read but enhanced my experience. I am looking forward to the next novel in the series.

Be kind.
A Bookish Girl

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Neil deGrasse Tyson

For many, I would HIGHLY recommend this book. If you are just beginning your astrophysics journey and don’t know where you want to explore, this book is a great first start. He provides more depth than a Scientific American article and less depth than an astrophysics textbook. Tyson summarises very well, covers the basics, and introduces those with no background in this area to complex subjects with relatable, chewable metaphors.

If you are a more advanced beginner – a reader who has spent a lot of time with Hawkins, Sagan, and Einstein and with a basic academic background in this area – than this may not be the Tyson book for you. For this advanced beginner, this book is a bit simple, very repetitive of what you already know, and a bit too shallow. But, I think that is exactly what Tyson meant to accomplish.

Be kind and keep reading.

-A Bookish Girl

Uprooted

Naomi Novik

I find this book is difficult to view as a single story. There are many aspects of the story which I enjoyed immensely and some aspects which were not well executed. I will start with the good, follow with the bad, and sum up with an overall impression.

The good. The story is unique and has the feeling of a fairy tale. Many scenes occur that would make John Donne seem concrete and grounded in his works. There is also a lot crammed into this story – which I enjoyed, but a lot of readers did not. I do admit the high number of events occurring makes the story seem like several different tales in one. But, I kind of liked that.

The magic is both familiar and strange. The author does suggest magic requires energy from the practice – which is fairly standard. Yet, the world’s magic is also a living thing.  It can be navigated, persuaded, and felt – which felt different and yet right.

The villain is proper evil. The tale does not shy away from being dark where it is necessary. The villain takes countless lives to accomplish its end goal – devouring the entire land.  Novik ensures the villain lacks compassion, kindness, any other than vengeance, which leaves us when a particularly gruesome and cruel enemy.

The bad. I shy away from calling things bad – I know authors work hard to deliver the best story they can in the best way they can. However, it is difficult to accept the romantic aspect of this story. Initially, it felt as though the story unfolding would be similar to Beauty and the Beast. Despite the many issues in that fairy tale, it holds a special place in my heart. (Belle really feel for the library – like any reader would. It is a story about a woman falling in love with a library! Not about Stockholm Syndrome. No, I refuse to see it through adult eyes!)

Anyway, I was expecting a similar tale. And in a way, it is. If the Beast never showed any kindness and stayed the grumpy, awful, rude animal he was at the start. The author made the male interest a patronising individual and, even after the tilt in the relationship where he begins to respect and admire the female lead, he never softens or shows true kindness. There are times in the story during which Sarkan’s heart seems to have softened and his gruff exterior seems to have been broken. But, unlike a Dalek, Sarkan is shown to have no gooey centre. To be fair if I met a person with special snowflake syndrome, I may not be very nice either. (I have worked over a century to be an expert at magic and after two weeks you are a million times better? That would piss me off too, Sarkan.)

It seems as though the author was trying to show the dangers of seclusion and living only for the pursuit of knowledge. Or, the hollowness of life without companionship. It is hinted at throughout the story. Perhaps, this was the role of Sarkan and the author failed to execute his redemption adequately. The lack of any clear character development in Sarkan leaves the reader uncomfortable with the knowledge the female lead is left in this odd and abusive relationship with a beast of a man.

Overall. Something about the book felt poetic and wonderfully unique. To get the most out of the story, I believe the reader needs to perceive it as a fairy tale that does not take itself too seriously. The story falls apart when you look at it through too fine a scope. Yet as a superficial read, it is entertaining and even enjoyable.

Be good to one another.
A Bookish Girl

Guardians of Summerfeld Series

Melissa Delport

Note: This is a review of the full series. 

Delport shares Quinn’s tale in a manner which demonstrates her mastery of the craft. While you read the story, she is sinking her talons into you so that you cannot wiggle free from her grasp until the story is complete. (I read the third and fourth book within a couple hours of each other. Well, I finished the third book at midnight and pressed on reading the final novel until 4 AM. When completed, I finally rested.)

The story is driven forward by a mix of changing relationships and large-scale, action events. (Which is not a style I typically enjoy. I prefer the romantic and/or interpersonal drama takes a backseat to the events in the story.) Delport had me flipping pages to see the next interaction because certain characters as well as to find out what happened in the battle. I think it is this balance that will see The Guardians of Summerfeld enjoyed by a diverse audience.

The thorn in my side, which is predictable to any of my readers, is the love triangle. I find love triangles to be the most obnoxious, over-played, terrible ploy to create drama and feign “true love” in the tool kit of most romance writers. While Delport gets dangerously close to adopting a love triangle story line in the second novel, she does abandon it after the second novel. Thank goodness.

The story is unique. The host of characters (from different paths, species, and in a way, word) have well-revealed stories that provide unique perspectives that sway the reader’s view of good and evil. Delport implores us to question what we have been told and to believe in the power of love and kindness over all else.

This is my first time at the mercy of Delport’s story-weaving. I am sure it will not be my last adventure into her work. Next time, I will bring snacks and make sure someone is around to make me shower, sleep, and go to work.

Be kind to each other.

A Bookish Girl

The Invisible Library Series

Genevieve Cogman

Note: This post is a review of the series to-date.

The first book of this series, The Invisible Library, has a unique plot that keeps the reader engaged despite odd dialogue in areas. I read parts of this novel out loud to my spouse to ensure I was not the only one who felt the author had not conversed with another person while writing this story. The dialogue shattered the pace of the story at times, but the idea was so neat, I kept reading.

I am glad I did.

The awkward interactions are wiped clean by the second and third novels. I even began to think Cogman intentionally wrote the conversations as stunted and uncomfortable so she could illustrate to growing bond between the lead characters. As time passes and as the characters survive and struggle together, they communicate naturally and with more than language as most tight-knit groups come to develop as they grow together.

Cogman writes a unique and enticing story that will keep you entertained and seeking more. Her host of characters have depth, but not written out. The point of view is such that only the main character is fully revealed. The supporting characters and additional main characters are revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story. Mysteries still abound in their full personalities, their motivation and intentions have not fully been illuminated to the reader. Rather than creating shallow, half-formed characters, Cogman has created tension that mirrors that of real relationships. (You don’t fully know or understand even those closest to you.)

This is a female lead with two main male characters. So, there is a love triangle, right? No! Although some tension exists throughout the novel between the female and the males, it is at different times and in completely different ways. Rather than an obnoxious, all-consuming, dull, love-triangle tale, Cogman presents a realistic relationship between three friends that, at times, feel perhaps there is more to the connection between them. Yet, the romantic drama is sidelined so the friends can endure adventures, challenges, and escapes from certain death. The tension and drama exist only between two characters and is never a dividing point in the circle of friends.

In other words, some romance is sprinkled throughout the tale. If you are a die-hard romance fan, you will be left frustrated. However if you enjoy a fantastical tale with realistic relationships and characters, Cogman delivers in the most wonderful of ways.

I can hardly wait for the January 2018 release of the next novel in this series.

Keep reading.

Be kind to one another.

-A Bookish Girl

Stripped to the Bone: Portraits of Syrian Women

Ghada Alatrash

I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing.

This novel made me yearn to read poetry in the jasmine-scented gardens of a peaceful Damascus. At times, my heart was broken, and I wished to reach out and hold the women in these pages. There were moments while reading where hope, optimism, and joy restored my soul. Stripped to the Bone is not a long book; it is merely a collection of short moments in the lives of several Syrian Women. Yet, it takes you further and makes you feel more than many books three times as long. It is simply a wonderful work of art.

I adored this collection. I felt I was experiencing a portrait of the subjects in Alatrash’s novel. A photographer or painter would do well to portray the subjects in such an honest, stunning, and impactful manner. One cannot read these glimpses without being changed forever – perhaps because life is a collection of moments and these shared moments are so raw and beautifully honest.

-A Bookish Girl