Title: What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?
Author: Chiu Kwong-chiu & Eileen Ng
Illustrations: Design and Cultural Studies Workshop
Translation: Ben Wang
We received this awhile back in exchange for an honest review and it took us awhile to get through it – not because it isn’t brilliant, but because it is long, especially for a kids’ picture book.
The information is fantastic, the pictures fun. But What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? should have been serialized.
It wouldn’t be hard to do as there are already mini chapter-like breaks. Kids like my own five year old would respond better to it being shorter titles that they could collect like a series as opposed to reading bits of the same book each night. Ultimately, it’s the same amount of reading for the same amount of time, but kids see it differently for some reason, and they tend to like to collect things anyway.
We loved all the tidbits about Life in China’s Forbidden City, but as a customer, reader, mother, author, bookseller, reviewer, and someone who possesses a BBA in Marketing, I think there could be a lot more money into turning this title into a series of smaller books.
Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Books about books and bookstores… it’s my achilles heel. It’s the thing I cannot live without. It’s absurd how these things find me.
A.J. Fikry soothed my soul when I was too tired to appreciate much in the world of anything involving humans or words or life… yet, the book is all about humans living with words. It’s lovely. After a depressive hiatus that resulted in me binge watching The Flash, A.J. Fiery got me reading again.
The romance of reading is simply one of my all time favorite topics. I suppose because it’s the only romance I truly trust. The books will not abandon you. Books are sturdy. And more than anything, they are one sided and require little from you to continue to exist and offer you their best. A book does not cease giving you all it has to offer just because you are in a bad mood – or emotionally unavailable. A book loves you back no matter what. A book won’t surprise you when it ends, you can feel it coming as it becomes more weighted in your left than your right. You know on the last page that it will not speak to you again unless you start over. And you always have the option to start over.
A.J. Fikry’s island bookstore is just what the emotional doctor ordered, I plan to repeat the experience often.
Piggy-backing off of A World of Randomness who apparently piggy-backed off me, which I’m sure I ripped off someone else at some point… It seems we book bloggers love revisiting this bit of fun every year.
Using only books you have read this last year (2015), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.
Describe yourself: A Scattered Life (Karen McQuestion)
How do you feel: Screw-jack (Thompson)
Describe where you currently live: Paper Towns (John Green)
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Haunted Bookshop (Morley)
Your favorite form of transportation: Bombardier Beetles and Fever Trees (Agosta)
Your best friend is: Wild (Strayed) [Not really, it’s just the only thing that seemed to fit.]
You and your friends are: Looking for Me (Hoffman)
What is the best advice you have to give: How to Build an Android (Duffy)
What’s the weather like: Rain (Kirsty Gunn) / Storm Front (Jim Butcher)
You fear: Everything I Never Told You (Ng)
Thought for the day: It’s About Time (Evers)
How I would like to die: Peace Like a River (Enger)
My soul’s present condition: A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)
My Complete 2015 Reading List is as follows (kid /young adult chapter books were read aloud to the kiddo):
1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
2. Serendipities: Language & Lunacy – Umberto Eco
3. The Haunted Bookshop – Christopher Morley
4. The Death of Woman Wang – Jonathan Spence
5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
6. Magic Tree House #20 – Mary Pope Osborn
7. One Hundred & One Dalmatians – Dodie Smith
8. Guide to Wild Foods & Useful Plants – Nyerges
9. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
10. The Excellent Wife – Martha Peace
11. Garden Crafts for Kids – Diane Rhoads
12. The Homeschool Life – Andrea Schwartz
13. The Gardener’s Bed Book – Wright
14. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
15. One Woman Farm – Woginrich
16. The Quarter Acre Farm- Spring Warren
17. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
18. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
19. Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry – Elizabeth McCracken
20. Dirty Pretty Things – Michael Faudet
21. How Reading Changed My Life – Anna Quindlen
22. The Penultimate Truth – Philip K. Dick
23. Observations on the River Wye – Gilpin
24. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
25. Bombardier Beetles and Fever Trees – William Agosta
26. How to Build an Android – Duffy
27. The Pythagorean Theorem: The Story of Its Power and Beauty – Alfred S. Posamentier
28. Clans of the Alphane Moon – Philip K. Dick
29. Minority Report – Philip K. Dick
30. A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
31. The Man of Numbers – Keith Devlin
32. Pheromones and Animal Behavior: Communication by Smell & Taste – Tristram D. Wyatt
33. Ape and Essence – Aldous Huxley
34. Solar Lottery – Philip K. Dick
35. Deadly Ruse – E. Michael Helms
36. The Almagest – Ptolemy
37. The Clover House – Henriette Lazaridis Power
38. The Thief Lord – Cornelia Funke
39. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
40. Looking for Me – Beth Hoffman
41. The House of Paper – Carlos Maria Dominguez
42. The Colossus and Other Poems – Sylvia Plath
43. High Moon – E.J. Bosley
44. Nerve – Bethany Macmanus
45. A Scattered Life – Karen McQuestion
46. Liber Abaci – Fibonacci
47. Vanity Fare – Megan Caldwell
48. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven – Sherman Alexie
49. The Martian – Andy Weir
50. Critical Lessons – Nel Noddings
51. Echo – Lorena Glass
52. Jewel of the Seven Stars – Bram Stoker
53. The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
54. Haunting Jasmine – Anjali Banerjee
55. Casey of Cranberry Cove – Susan Koch
56. The Christie Curse – Victoria Abbott
57. City of Dark Magic – Magnus Flyte
58. Screw-jack – Hunter S. Thompson
59. CATastrophic Connections – Joyce Ann Brown
60. Where I Was From – Joan Didion
61. Getting the Girl – Zusak
62. The Secrets of Droon #1 – Tony Abbot (read this aloud to kiddo)
63. Storm Front – Jim Butcher
64. The Pharaoh’s Cat – Maria Luisa Lang
65. Paper Towns – John Green
66. The Quick and the Dead – Louis L’amour
67. Early Bird – Rothman
68. It’s About Time – Liz Evers
69. The Secrets of Droon #3 – Abbott (read this aloud to kiddo)
70. Better With You Here – Gwendolyn Zipped
71. Rain – Kirsty Gunn
72. Sackett – Louis L’amour
73. Transcendental Wild Oats – Louisa May Alcott
74. Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose – Diana Leszczynski (read this aloud to kiddo)
75. Secrets of Droon #7 – Abbott (read aloud to kiddo)
76. 16 Lighthouse Road – Debbie Macomber
77. The Emotionally Destructive Relationship – Vernick
78. Peace Like a River – Leif Enger
79. Keeper – S. Smith
80. The Year of Learning Dangerously – Quinn Cummings
81. Anemogram – Rebecca Gransden
82. The Summer We Read Gatsby – Danielle Ganek
83. Wren – Regina O’Connell
84. The Writing Circle – Corinne Demas
85. The Good Neighbor – A.J. Banner
86. Spelling V – Meb Bryant
87. Ross Poldark – Winston Graham
88. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Length: 297 pages
Leave it to me to take an 80 degree Christmas day to snuggle under the softest blanket to ever touch my skin and read the most beautifully depressing book. The blanket, a gift I received this morning, is the same color scheme as the Penguin trade paperback edition cover of Ng’s work. And as I sank into a cloud of a blanket, I also became lost within the pages of a story that begins: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know that yet.”
Ng’s book is a beautiful representation of a family trying to come to terms with their differences and contradictions – within society, among themselves, and in the depths of their own souls. A mixed marriage in a time when it was not only uncommon, but in some states still illegal, James and Marilyn are more different than their skin tone. James, desperately trying to blend in and fade into the crowd, while Marilyn is ever the opposite – wanting to be unique and important in a generation of women who are still encouraged only to please their husbands.
“[…] her mother promised to teach them everything a young lady needed to keep a house. As if, Marilyn thought, it might run away when you weren’t looking.”
Nath is the oldest of James and Marilyn’s children, the big brother who does his best to be his little sister’s only emotional support in a family dynamic that is oppressive, codependent, and full of too much subtlety and things left unspoken. Lydia, the people pleaser, is dead; and Hannah, the youngest of the children, is unnoticed.
Despite being a celebrated bestseller, I was surprised to find a number of poor reviews. People unhappy with the layers of the storytelling, of being spoon-fed too many sides of a story. People annoyed by how over the top and unrealistic the characters are, calling them allegorical or fairytale-like in their melancholy and their lack of cohesive expression. I find myself at odds with these reviews. I disagree completely, having loved the way Ng tells the story like a tide coming in… in three different tenses, the tale splashing over your toes, receding so you could see it from a distance, then rushing toward you to engulf not just your toes but the tops of your feet as well. Again. Again. And again. Until your whole body is submerged. Until the entire story has saturated you, body, mind, and soul.
People who do not recognize these characters have the blessing of never living in a dysfunctional family. People who cannot see how very real these portraits are, how they sting in their accuracy, have – perhaps – not lived long enough to see how someone’s childhood shapes them in a way that easily distorts the lives of their children in a slightly different way, and can keep going for generations until something tragic occurs to shed the tiniest bit of light on what has never been spoken aloud. People who don’t understand this novel, have never seen loss and grief played out… have never sat wondering how well they knew the person who has just left them forever. Have never sat and realized that when someone is gone, there are pieces of them no one will ever know, because no one can completely know another’s mind.
“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”
This book is gorgeous, and a little bit awful. It will strike a chord and leave you questioning how your own actions will be perceived. I will keep my copy and I anticipate reading it again in the future.
“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”
Title: Ross Poldark (Poldark Series Book #1)
Author: Winston Graham
Genre: Historical Fiction
In 1945 Graham Winston released the novel Ross Poldark, the first of what would later become a twelve volume saga of regarding the Poldark family.
The series was infinitely popular during its time, and went on to become a classic, taken to the screen by many, including my favorite: Masterpiece Theatre.
Graham’s work outside the Poldark series is even more extensive – his career as a novelist resulted in over forty titles being published in his lifetime.
I’ve run the fiction department of a bookstore for years. On and off since 2007, to be exact. I know the fiction/literature department of most bookstores like the back of my hand. Yet, I’ve never read any of Graham’s work until now – and I vaguely recall only seeing one of his books grace my fingertips ever. His books have never made a sizable appearance on the shelves where I work. Had we seen more copies of his work over the years, I certainly would have read his work by now as he’s right up my alley.
Poldark is for the Jane Austen and Bernard Cornwell lovers, a historical fiction piece too wonderful to ignore. Set in the late 1700’s (just a few decades after Outlander), Ross Poldark chronicles the return of the title’s namesake from America, where he’s fought in the revolution and been rumored dead. He arrives to find the woman he loves has not waited so patiently after all and is engaged to his cousin.
I love the full cast of this novel, and I assume the rest of the series. Not only does it follow the eventful lives of Ross and his cousins, Francis and Verity, the ex-lover Elizabeth, servants including a scullery maid Demelza, and an entire town of miners living on Poldark land. Graham does a little bit of third person head hopping, but never leaves you confused and maintains a streamlined storyline.
I am eager to read the second installment, Demelza, and am equally eager for the second season of the PBS series, Poldark.
Title: Spelling V
Author: Meb Bryant
I finally found a cover for my kindle – one that fits, one that I like. It’s a little brown leather ditty with quotes embossed in ink-black cursive. Finally, it has the feel of a book rather than a device; something I can set down and not tuck away in the box it was shipped to me from Amazon.
I bought the cover at Half Price Books last night. First thing this morning I charged my kindle and chose what book to tackle first.
Then I remembered Meb Bryant.
“She had an orange belt in karate… he had a leather belt in the loops of his jeans.” I read that and snickered. Good one, Meb.
Bryant is clever and has a way of writing something shocking with prose that urges you to continue to read something horrific and not be shocked. Think Nabakov writing Lolita – except with stories Bentley Little would be proud of. The only way Spelling V could be more disturbing is if Bryant had lingered over the story for a few hundred pages.
Bryant artfully maps out the lifetime of a control freak, a codependent, and psychopath, and it’s pretty darn riveting. I especially love that one of the characters reads Bryant’s novel Harbinger of Evil. I’m a huge sucker for when authors do this. I like the idea of one interconnected world within an authors fantasies.
Give the best holiday gift this season: buy yourself a short story to read in between holiday meals and excitement and leave a review. You deserve a break and indie authors thrive on reviews.
Title: The Writing Circle
Author: Corinne Demas
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Literary Fiction
Length: 305 pages
I loved this book. It has a slow, steady pace, but one worth indulging in. Demas has the writing style I was going for when I first tackled the genre with The Bookshop Hotel series. However, in her prolific career, she has mastered the craft in a way that proves I have so much to learn.
The Writing Circle is a much darker story than it appears to be at first glance, or even in the first half of the story itself. It chronicles the lives of Nancy, Bernard, Virginia, Adam, Chris, and Gillian as they discuss and critique their craft. Nancy is a novelist who writes and edits a medical journal by day. Bernard, a biographer. Virginia and Chris are both published fiction writers as well. Adam is the youngest, an aspiring writer; and Gillian is the most renown of the group, a poet short-listed for a Pulitzer.
A lot of reviews on Goodreads complain about the number of characters and many readers say it was hard to keep track. I didn’t find this a problem at all. If anything, I marveled at Demas’ ability to write a third person limited omniscient viewpoint with so many distinct voices. She has nailed the ability to travel seamlessly from one character to the next without head hopping, while restricting the inner monologue and recollections to only that which carries the narrative of the specific story she is trying to tell. The book is brilliant. I hope my third book displays at least half as much talent and craftsmanship.
I look forward to reading more of Demas’ work. She has a lot to choose from.
Title: Bowls of Happiness
Author: Brian Tse
Illustrator: Alice Mak
Translator: Ben Wang
Genre: Children’s Picture Books/ Education/ Cultural Studies
As the kiddo grows older, she’s becoming more apt to share her opinions on things. She’s at the phase where not only is she becoming more articulate, she’s realizing that people will listen to her when she is. She’s five, a just turned five, but five nevertheless.
That being so, I like keeping her in the habit of thinking about what she likes and dislikes about what we read. I enjoy having her reiterate what we’ve read, to know that she is listening and understanding.
“I like the way the flowers are pretty and I like the way Piggy sits in the flowers and sun. And the part where the birds sing. But when Piggy and the bats run away from the rain, that wasn’t really fun. When Piggy’s bowl was finished with the flowers and the bats, that looked really pretty. I like the yellow bowl, and the yellow bowl with Piggy on it. And I like the way there is a picture with flowers with no words. I like the yellow bowl with pictures of just flowers and leaves, it’s really pretty to me. I like the bowl with Piggy inside that is blue and branches and flowers and one bird. I like the white bowl with the pond and two birds. And I like the yellow bowl with flowers and blue kind of moons and patterns on it. I learned about love and Chinese and the way people love people and I learned ALL about bowls. I think all of it is cool. And at the end with the hand with the hole and the piggy nose is pretty cool to me, the one that comes from the other page.”
Then she proceeded to find all the capital I’s in the letter from Chiu Kwwong-chiu at the end. I’m pretty sure she likes the letter I as well.
All in all, I think this book was a huge success in our house. Mostly because studying Chinese culture has always been important to us (I grew up in a Kung Fu studio) and the color yellow is kiddo’s second favorite color. There’s a lot of yellow in Bowls of Happiness.
I don’t think we’ve ever read a book laid out in this fashion, this size, separated almost in a chapter-like manner. (Story book first, then a detailed nonfiction section that could have easily been published as a separate title.) We’ve definitely not encounter one on this subject. It’s lovely.
Cultural and artistic studies are important for tiny people and teaching them about the artistry found in every day objects as well as museums is a key part of showing them the beauty of the world. I want my child to see beauty in her world, not through rose-colored lenses, but through intelligence and empathy.
Author: Regina O’Connell
Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy
Format: Kindle/ Ebook
One of the perks of being an indie author is that I encounter a lot of other indie authors. In doing so, I discover a lot of reading material that most people might not. With all this non-mainstream discovery, I get passed a lot of duds and a lot of gems.
Wren was neither for me. It was a good book among a lot of good books. It didn’t blow me away, but I didn’t feel like I wasted my time either. It was enjoyable and if the right person came along, I’d pass along a recommendation – not in a sing its praises from the rooftop sort of way, but in a there is an audience for everything sort of way.
Wren is a book for someone with an hour to kill who is in the mood for a fast-paced action/ dystopian fantasy. You are quickly dropped into the story and it’s easy to devour it. I read it in one sitting – so clearly it’s a fun way to pass time.
I’m not sure it will make a lasting impression, though. It’s not a story that will stay with me. It is a story that will compel me to read whatever O’Connell puts out next, when I have the time, just to see. She’s piqued my curiosity and I’m glad I had the opportunity to take a peek into her imaginary world and keep her writing career on my radar.