The Gunslinger (Dark Tower #1)

The Gunslinger

I am reading The Dark Tower series by Stephen King in anticipation of the movie release coming up on August 4th. The movie claims to pull from several books in the series, but my goal is to be through at least the first 3 by then: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands.

The Gunslinger is a very fast read. If I wanted to, I could have sat down and read the entire thing in one day. There is obviously a HUGE backstory that we know nothing about. We know there is something supernatural going on, there is Roland the gunslinger chasing the man in black through a desert, stopping at different towns along the way to rest and restock. We don’t know why he is chasing him, or why the man in black leaves traps laid for him.

Along the way he comes across a boy named Jake, who seems to have been transported into Roland’s world by the man in black for a purpose that we are not aware of. As they travel together, Roland tells Jake stories about his past, including how he trained to be a gunslinger and that he may have been royalty of some kind.

This book was published one year before I was born, and the entire series was completed in 2004, a year before I would shake King’s hand crossing the stage at my University of Maine graduation. When you consider that in the Afterword of The Gunslinger, he admits that it took him about 12 years just to bring this first novel together, moving between it and other books like The Shining or The Stand, The Dark Tower series took from 1970ish to 2004 to finish: almost a full 35 years.

This is not surprising when you consider all that The Gunslinger sets up in a mere 220 pages. Roland’s backstory, the man in black, the mystery of the Tower and why it calls to Roland, the three people he must draw from their worlds to help him in his quest, among other things including those who guard the Tower and are too terrible for even the man in black to speak of.

The difficulty with The Gunslinger is that it is written in the style of an epic like The Iliad or The Odyssey. The language gets tangled a bit sometimes, as though it’s got a rhythm all its own, and I found myself having to reread some paragraphs just to get a sense for what it was trying to tell me. This is truly the end of the beginning of a fantasy epic that Stephen King has constructed for us to chase. His Tower, which we must find and conquer.

I have said before that King novels are books that have to come at the right time for me to read them. It seems that, conveniently enough, now is the time for me to work my way through this series. Come along with me, it’s going to be an interesting, magical ride.

New Release! The Life She Was Given (7/25/17)

The Life She Was Given

Newly out on July 25th, The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman asks us to explore the terrifying realities behind child abuse and neglect. The story follows two girls: Lilly and Julia, who have been raised by the same parents in two separate decades. Lilly’s story begins in the late 1930s, and Julia’s in the late 1950s. Lilly has been born with albinism and her parents have kept her hidden in an attic bedroom under lock and key in their giant mansion on their profitable horse farm. Lilly has never been outside, until her mother drags her out in the dead of night to sell her to the circus currently leasing a plot of their land. She is treated abhorrently to break her spirit and is then featured in the sideshow freak tent for most of her tenure there. She is nine or ten when her mother sells her.

Julia is working at a diner and living with roommates in horrible conditions. She’s washing herself in the bathroom of a grocery store and stealing Spam when we first meet her, and then it’s revealed that her (and Lilly’s) parents have died and left her the entire estate. The only condition is that she must return to the farm and live there. So our journey with Julia is discovering the secrets of her family’s past by way of rummaging through the giant mansion with her mother’s large ring of ancient keys.

These two stories slowly make their way toward each other, but at the outset there appears to be no link other than their shared parents. My mind, always on the lookout, detected what was going on early, but it does not ruin the twist or the ending to know. In fact, the twist you think is THE twist is not the ultimate surprise. The surprise is simply devastating, and my mouth hung open and tears escaped from my eyes in disbelief as I read everything coming together to give us, the readers, the final piece of the puzzle.

I really respect an author who gives it to me straight. I don’t always need a happy ending, but I do insist on an ending that makes sense. Convenient endings make me furious. Wiseman was decidedly NOT convenient with her ending, and while it may be sad, painful, and jaw-dropping, it’s real and leaves you with something to think about.

Go get The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman. You won’t be disappointed.

On Podcasts: What Should I Read Next?

What Should I Read Next

I like to think of this podcast as The Book Psychic or The Book Doctor. Anne Bogel has a guest on the show, and she has them tell her three favorite books, one that they hated, and what they are currently reading or have read lately, and she uses that information to decide what they should read next. The interview format works well for Bogel’s podcast, however her interviews feel very scripted as opposed to conversational.

What I like about this podcast is that Bogle seems to bring attention to the idea that reading can be done in a thoughtful way. Instead of just grabbing books that look good, readers can do a personal version of Amazon’s “because you bought this, you might like this” approach. There are so many books out there and you will never read them all, so you might as well surround yourself with books that you enjoy. I appreciate that the seems to always suggest books that are comfortable and those that might challenge the reader, all while managing to stay in their enjoyment circle.

I guess the only thing I didn’t like was Bogle’s “podcast voice.” It reminded me of how SNL, Parks and Recreation, and other shows have made fun of NPR – they put on a voice to seem quiet and impressive. Occasionally it sounds disingenuous when she said “oh, interesting, I love it” and I’m like, “ugh interesting.”  I’m not convinced.  To be fair though, to say that to your guest every single week…everything isn’t interesting, but we have to be polite, you know? And to be fair, I’ve only listened to three episodes. As a new podcaster myself, I am also hopeful that people won’t judge me too harshly in these early times as I am still figuring things out. So my one critique may go away with time as she gets more comfortable in her podcasting skin.

The reason I keep listening to this podcast is because she lists 10-15 books every single episode and the show notes are basically a gold mine of ideas for what to read next. Most are books I’ve heard of but some I haven’t and so I’m kind of making a TBR list based on this podcast because I would have never thought to pick them out, especially the non-fiction suggestions.

So occasionally eye-roll inducing vocals aside, this is a very valuable podcast if you are an avid reader. Check it out and have a notebook handy to write down all the books you’ll want to read next!

 

 

Dragon Teeth

Dragon Teeth

This was not the book I was expecting. Non-fiction woven with fiction to create an interesting journey into the old west created a story that was equal parts boring and suspenseful. Almost the moment that I got bored due to nonfictiony kinds of things something fictiony happened and I absolutely had to keep reading.

Evolution is still an idea that is controversial (LOL at least that’s changed, right? pfft) and two professors, Marsh and Cope, are rivals in the race to discover the most dinosaur bones in the West. Our fictional main character, William Johnson, is a snotty, spoiled, rich Yale student who plans to go to Europe for the summer until he is dared to travel along with Yale professor Marsh on a bones expedition to a location unknown. Marsh is a crazy, paranoid old coot who suspects Johnson of being a spy for his rival, Cope, and promptly abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is discovered by Cope and travels with him for his digging trip, then has quite the adventure trying to get back to Philadelphia.

The sense of drama is enhanced by the Native American conflicts, the danger faced when traveling through Sioux territory, and the lack of communication abilities (the telephone had only just been invented and most relied on the telegraph, which not all towns in the west had) and the general lawlessness – you’ll be holding your breath the whole way. The most satisfying bit is the change in William. I love a spoiled brat getting his, it was very enjoyable.

I will say that I prefer Crichton’s full fictional work to this. There are peaks and valleys in this book and early on I truly was ready to put the book down completely and not finish it because I was so bored. Know that perseverance pays off with this one. Stick with it and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Nevernight

Nevernight

The idea of revenge is very attractive to me. So many movies, shows, and books glorify turning the other cheek or letting go of revenge to be the better person, but my level of pettiness demands that I sometimes put myself to bed at night with stories inside my head of how I might get even or bring those who have wronged me to justice. I don’t have to be the one to do it, it just has to get done. I’m not really even talking about murder either. Just justice. And if I’m there smirking as they meet their just desserts so they can see that I’ve won, all the better.

Book 1 of the Nevernight series is all about revenge and murder. Jay Kristoff begins by holding up a mirror between the present and the past, showing how our main character Mia came to be trained as an assassin, and how she came to be sent to, essentially, assassin’s college at the Red Church to be trained as a Blade – a professional assassin.

A couple of things that I absolutely loved about this book:

  1. The mythology. There is a strong story about the gods and goddesses that play a role in this society. Mia lives in a land where there are 3 suns that are only all down once a year, a time they call Truedark, and all other times it is light. The Light God Aa and the Night Goddess Niah apparently had a fight when, instead of bearing him only daughters to avoid competition, she then bore him a son and he beat and banished her. The story is deeper than that but that’s enough. I like a fantasy novel that knows its business when it comes to its myths.
  2. The storyline. It simply never wavers. Everything is airtight, realistic, gritty, and unforgiving. Her training under the mountain at the Red Church is also kind of a contest/trial which adds to the suspense. We are not sure who is friend and who is foe, but in the end it’s less about trust and more about having a code.
    Omar
  3. The characters. I would consider this book to be more plot-driven than character-driven, but Kristoff does just enough that I felt invested in Mia’s struggle, in her fellow acolytes that are in training with her, in the Shahiids that train them. You know just enough to be afraid, to hate certain characters and to root for others.
  4. The magic. Mia is what they call Darkin, she is blessed by the Goddess of Night, Niah, and can summon shadows to do her bidding, use them to travel, and I am sure we have not seen the extent to which her abilities can stretch just yet. She also has a shadow companion, Mister Kindly, a cat that stays with her and eats her fear to keep her sane and strong. There is another darkin that we meet too, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. All I know is I want a shadow friend to follow me around and be sassy with me. Preferably a phoenix or hawk of some kind.
  5. The ending. I couldn’t read fast enough. When the twist happens and we’re racing against time I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what happens. I finished this book sated and satisfied, yet looking forward to book 2 for my next meal. It comes out on September 5th and I’ll have to decide whether to buy or wait for my library to have it.

I have been looking for a fantasy series to read while I wait for Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo to come out with more books. I knocked at the door of several, including the Red Queen series and A Darker Shade of Magic series, but I think I have finally found what I was looking for in Nevernight. Check it out, and then wait impatiently with me for Godsgrave, out September 5th.

On Podcasts: Levar Burton Reads

Levar Buton Reads

Levar Burton is intersectionality personified. His name speaks to children and adults alike. Science fiction nerds and serious historical nonfiction consumers. He has been Kunta Kinte and Martin Luther King and has danced foolishly through libraries.  His voice can be found on numerous animated programs. He is a legend. When you say Levar Burton, only the hipsterest of hipsters would say “Oh him? Never heard of him.” And then we would forget about that jerk and go back to loving Levar Burton.

I have not yet been able to get into audiobooks. I cannot do it. My mind wanders to other things and then I’m two chapters in and I have no idea what just happened. When I read I need to actually be reading the book, either in physical or e-book format. That’s just where I am at right now.

But then I listened to episode 1 of Levar Burton Reads. He starts with a sort of meditation invitation: to get comfortable, to open our minds, to take some deep breaths, and to get ready to listen. Truth be told I was typing up the review for Cruel Beautiful World while watching the weather on Bay News 9 while listening, so I wasn’t necessarily in the right space for this. Here’s what I discovered about myself though: maybe audiobooks and podcasts like this one are my opportunity for meditation.

Maybe just putting something like this podcast on for 30 minutes and just deep breathing and listening could be a way for me to relax. Maybe, just maybe, I can enjoy audiobooks or books being read to me if I pair it with meditation. Candles, comfy chair, closed door, headphones – it all came to me in a rush as he was reading, and you probably could have seen the light bulb come on over my head like Wile E. Coyote. I’ve been wanting to get into meditation. I’ve been wanting to find a way to get into audiobooks.

Levar Burton, you sneaky, epiphany-inducing butterfly.

So duh, go enjoy his new podcast.

 

Cruel Beautiful World

Cruel Beautiful World

This was one of the books that I picked up the day I went-a-perusin’ at my local library branch, and I almost didn’t pick it up.  I’m not sure why, something about the cover did not do it for me, but when I read the inside jacket description, I had to bring it home with me. I enjoy books that explore obligation, duty, and love.

To understand what this book is about, you must know the different relationships that are at play here. I’ll tell you about the obvious ones, but there are even more that wiggle their way into the story.

  1. Sisters: Charlotte and Lucy Gold are sisters whose parents died in a fire and are adopted by Iris, their only remaining family. Charlotte is quiet, reserved, smart, and protective of Lucy, who is bold, rash, and impulsive. These characteristics cause Lucy to make the decision that starts the book off with a bang.
  2. Lovers: Lucy and William are in love and are going to run away together. Problem is, William is her high school English teacher and Lucy is only 16. I almost put the book down when I realized that the escape was truly going to happen (it happens in the first few chapters so it’s not a spoiler) but then the book turned to…
  3. Iris and Doug: in my opinion this is the most beautiful relationship in the entire book so I’m going to let you read and discover it for yourself. We learn of this connection through chapters devoted to Iris’ story and how she comes to adopt the two girls. This part of the book saved it for me.

So the story tells the backstory of Iris, and the forward story of Iris, Charlotte, and Lucy as Charlotte moves forward to struggle in college, Iris ages and has to give up her home in favor of an assisted living facility, and Lucy copes with her new lifestyle as they hide and wait for her 18th birthday.

Charlotte Leavitt has created a journey through the ups and downs of typical relationships we might have in our lives. She does not sugar coat them, she writes them in their full nakedness and lays bare all their petals and thorns. The realness of the characters, their struggles, their sense of obligation, and their guilt over things they may have not had any control over and now do not have the power to do anything about, all come together to weave a tale that is true and you won’t want to put it down. Not all of the stories end how you think they will, but all the stories do end how they might out in nature, which I respect.

This is a “walk, don’t run” to it kind of book, but you will want to add it to your TBR list. It’s a good’un.

Spiderman: Homecoming

Spiderman

This is another superhero movie I was not looking forward to seeing. I saw all the Toby McGuire ones and then both Andrew Garfield ones (which I liked) so having to get into a new Spiderman again was not something I was pumped up to do.

What a surprise when the movie was an absolute delight. I was giggling most of the way through. Jacob Batalon steals the show as Peter’s best friend Ned, and the entire movie read so well with Peter as a high school kid and not a grown man pining over a girl. I also liked the “admiring from afar” kind of romance story instead of the typical OMG PETER PARKER AND MARY JANE. And I was on the Academic Decathlon team in high school! I remember practicing and being an alternate and then on the team – what a neat inclusion for the plot.

There wasn’t much I didn’t like about this movie, and with the addition of Michael Keaton as Vulture the cast was just about perfect. The origin of Vulture’s motivation and methods is super clear and I love his sense of fairness and duty. This was a villain that you can feel sympathy for, a la Mr. Freeze. The story was also pretty airtight, I didn’t have a lot of complaints about plot holes, and the ending(s) feel real, appropriate, and not convenient (you guys know how I hate things that just “come together”).

The next Spiderman comes out after the Infinity War movies, so it’s going to be a while, but I look forward to seeing the next villain and the development of his relationship with MJ (Zendaya was very enjoyable in this role). Since it’s part of this long-term Marvel Universe, you should go check out this new Spiderman. I don’t think we’ll be changing again any time soon.

 

 

Landline

landline

Another book by Rainbow Rowell, but this one is for us grown folk. Georgie is a successful tv writer whose husband is Neal. The book begins with their fight about her having to stay in LA for Christmas to write the first 4 episodes for a show that she and her long-time writing partner Seth thinks will be picked up by a huge tv executive.

We learn how she came to meet both Seth and Neal – at the college newspaper that she always dreamed about writing for. Seth is her ladies’ man comedic writing partner, and Neal was a quiet, mysterious cartoonist that caught her attention. Rowell sets us up for the classic “goes to the guy that was there all along” kind of story but instead gives us more of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” style story. I just finished the book last night, and I am not altogether sure that I liked this turn of events.

Her distress about Neal and their two children having left to be with Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas distracts her from the work that was keeping her home anyway. The book is called Landline because there is an old phone in her childhood bedroom, which she discovers when she goes to spend time with her family instead of being in her house all alone for Christmas. She uses it because the battery in her iPhone won’t hold a charge, and since she didn’t have a charger when she went to her mom’s house, she uses this landline instead…

…and calls Neal in the past when they had had a fight and she had thought he had broken up with her. She feels like she is going crazy and hijinks ensue. That’s all I’m going to say, you need to read the book to have the same weird experience I did.

But wait! I have more things to say!

I don’t think that this plot worked for me. Had the workaholic been a man and his wife had “had enough” and left with the kids I would have eaten it up and been like “yeah appreciate your woman” and it would have felt satisfying. I was continuously bothered by the double standards through the book: a woman can’t have a male writing partner or else the husband gets jealous, a woman can’t be at work at all hours, a man as a stay at home dad becomes resentful when a woman might just be viewed as doing ‘women’s work,’ and so on and so forth. I think the part that bothered me the most was how she completely falls apart once he leaves and doesn’t get the work done that she stayed home to do in the first place, and then it becomes her job to fix the relationship by reaching into the past through a magical phone – just, no.

I feel like this was a failed attempt at showing how a woman would somehow handle a typically male situation better, maybe? But the gender swapping just seemed to make the weight placed on women even heavier, and all I could think was that a man would not have done these things, he would have said something like “my career is on the line!” and then maybe finished quickly and moved the flight he already had to Christmas and surprised them.

This book was very well written, but left me with several questions and a bad taste in my mouth. What about Seth? Why doesn’t Neal have to apologize for NOT PICKING UP HIS PHONE AT ALL? Also why doesn’t Neal have to apologize for having this temper tantrum? We learn through the flashbacks that he’s like “oh baby, I’ll never resent you. You’re a writer and this is what you want to do, I’ll stay home with the kids baby no worries.” OH DOING ~ALL THE THINGS~ MAKES YOU FEEL RESENTFUL AND LONELY AND UNDERAPPRECIATED? NO SHIT. TELL ME MORE.

tell me more

This book just fell so flat for me, and left me angry to boot. But there was a budding lesbian relationship thrown in there for good measure, so I guess she’s still #onbrand? Also puppies? I’m not that easily distracted, Rainbow.

Eleanor and Park was so good (“so good”) so reading this book was really disappointing. This came out of the same author? I mean, it wasn’t terrible so if you’re a fan you should read it to see how you feel. This isn’t a book I would encourage you to NEVER read, just know that it’s a little tangled and probably not her best work. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the book, so if you’ve read it or are going to go get it now, come on back and leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Satanic Mechanic (Tannie Maria #2)

Satanic Mechanic

What an amazing surprise these books have been. To think that if I hadn’t just wandered into my library to pick out some books based on sight and instinct I would have never come across these delightful novels.

In the second installment of Sally Andrew’s Tannie Maria Mystery series, Maria is getting closer to the police detective Henk after her kidnapping in the last book, but her abusive (dead) husband comes back to haunt her (figuratively) in the form of intimacy PTSD. Her friends and Henk encourage her to seek counseling. The first person she sees suggests she go on a diet (I will have some words about this in my next podcast as well as an essay coming in the future about the humanity of fat people) but then her friends say that’s bullshit (hooray!) and suggest a support group led by a former satanist from Hotezel (“Hot-as-hell”) and when she goes she finds safety, support, and murder.

There are two murders in this book, and they link together in an interesting way. What I found most enjoyable about this book was the support offered to Tannie Maria, almost to the point where I felt like I was reading a fantasy book instead of a murder mystery. No one judged her for her mental struggles? Everyone was so supportive? At one point I cried a little because reading this book, at times, made me feel like I was wrapped in a warm blanket eating chocolate frosted choco-coffee cake with everyone telling me that everything was going to be okay and that I am loved. That I am fine the way I am and that I have things to offer the world. Tannie Maria is so loved, and it was a joy to read a book where a woman is so encouraged and supported.

I have also never thought about traveling to South Africa, but now I want to see the sights, hear the language, taste the food, and hear the wildlife. Andrew’s descriptions are so vivid that you will see the kudu, hear her chickens in the yard, smell the citrus dessert as Maria pulls it out of the oven. The scenery, the sunrises, the culture…South Africa sounds amazing.

I wish that I knew about these books when they came out so that I could be as excited for them as I am for the third book that is on its way. Ms. Andrew Tweeted at me that she is about 80,000 words into a draft and I could not be more delighted. That’s an advanced reader copy that I would love to have and review ahead of its release. *fingers crossed*

If you are a busy woman who handles 95% of your world and deep inside knows she is taken for granted, that wishes she had more time to hang with friends or pursue her passions, please go get these books. Live vicariously and deliciously through Maria and dream of a time when you might whip up a four course meal in an afternoon while smartly sniffing out murderous intentions and making love deep into a South African night. These books are both a fun romp and a soothing balm for the female soul. Go get you some.