5 stars · Book Review · Sci-Fi · Science · series books · thoughts

The Last Dance is an accessible and entertaining intro for Sci-Fi newbies and hits the spot for nostalgic Sci-Fi readers

41LvyukIvVLIf you love the old Star Treks, Star Gate and anything 80’s sci-fi, The Last Dance by Martin L. Shoemaker is a must read.  This was one of my favorite Kindle reads of the year.  It was well written, fun and incredibly intelligent.  You can tell Shoemaker loves space and the book maintains a good grasp on the science involved with space travel as well as the complexity of human behavior and emotions when millions of miles away from home.  There’s nothing I hate more than a book that glosses over science completely (unless it’s magic..of course!) so I really appreciated Shoemaker’s approach in The Last Dance.  The true emotion elicited by this book was reminiscent of reading “The War of the Worlds”…i.e..it totally could happen.

Set on the Aldrin, a space craft that shuttles people from Earth to the Mars colonies in 2083, The Last Dance untangles the very complicated story of Captain Nicolau Aames who is accused of treason and his loyal crew, accused of mutiny.

As Inspector General Park boards the Aldrin and conducts her investigation into Aames and his crew, she encounters the true complexity of space travel, the nuances of human interactions and the explosive political tensions between the Mars/Earth and Civilian/Military bureaucracy. 

Aames, by all accounts is an asshole.  But he is consistent, incredibly competent and exceptionally fair.  He’s also stubborn, arrogant and routinely pushes people to their breaking points.  His list of political enemies reaches from Earth to Mars.  His crew, however, is unswervingly loyal and exceptionally competent themselves, leaving Inspector General Park to dig for an unbiased truth from the testimonies of a crew who respects their captain and stands by him, even against accusations of mutiny and treason.  

The Last Dance was so much fun to read and I cannot wait book two: The Last Campaign.

5 Stars because I love retro sci-fi.  🙂

Until next time, happy reading friends.

-R

Book Review · India · tear jerker · thoughts

The Storyteller’s Secret: A Novel by Sejal Badani

51GC3g1SSXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Set in India during the reign of the British Raj, The Storyteller’s Secret weaves the lives of a long lost Indian grandmother and her American granddaughter together in an intricate pattern of love, duty, honor, tradition, and heartbreak.

Jaya, an Indian-American journalist, escapes the overwhelming grief of three miscarriages and an impeding divorce by following her Grandfather’s death bed summons, against her Mother’s wishes, to India.  Expecting to reunite with her estranged Indian family, Jaya instead finds herself in an empty house full of secrets and cared for by her Grandmother’s best friend, Ravi.  To ease her grief, Ravi gifts Jaya with the secret of her Grandmother Amisha’s story and the true history of her family.

The Storyteller’s Secret rotates through Amisha, Jaya and Ravi as narrators.  Badani does an excellent job of fleshing out each character and developing their story lines equally, which allows the story to flow and mesh seamlessly.  Badani does not gloss over India’s history of caste systems, the treatment of women or the living conditions in India.   Nor does she use these things for shock value.  These topics are presented very carefully and respectfully to the Indian culture while also very clearly showing how those practices and conditions affected the population.  This took a very fine balance and I appreciated the way Badani’s writing allowed the reader to empathize with the characters on a deeper level while also respecting Indian customs, history and culture.

I loved the smells, sights, tastes and physical aspects of Badani’s writing, as well as the emotional depth she gave each character.  While the majority of the story felt so very real and human, the ending took on a bit of a fairy-tale style wrap up.  The ending also felt rushed compared to the rest of the book, almost like Badani was limited in pages.  I would have loved a little bit more closure and a bit more of a messy ending.

All in all, the writing and the story were both beautifully done and with the last page, I was tempted to rush over to Amazon to buy a copy for one of my best friends.  Amazon readers seem to agree.  Despite being published a little less than five months ago, The Storyteller’s Secret already has over 5000 reviews.  It is also the number 1 Kindle Romance book and hits the top 10 in the Amazon charts for Cultural Heritage, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Contemporary Fiction.

If you’re looking for a historical fiction to take you out of your normal reading comfort zone, give The Storyteller’s Secret a read.

Until next time, Cheers!

-R

 

 

 

 

 

beach read · Favorite Authors · Favorite Books · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

I am officially obsessed with the worlds created by Jeff Wheeler

It’s official y’all.  I am completely obsessed with the worlds Jeff Wheeler has created.  This entire summer has been spent immersed in Muirwood and Kingfountain, day dreaming about kingdoms and castles, banished princesses and magic.  So.  Much.  Magic!  I love it!  So far I’ve devoured 15 (!) of Wheeler’s books and started on the 16th last night.  While each series is its own world and series, they do weave very loosely into one another, which is incredible.  It’s almost like Wheeler is writing his own fan fiction after each series and building world up on world that roots back to the original.  However, if we’re being honest, it’s hard to tell which world is the original world and it feels like Wheeler somehow wrote all of these books simultaneously rather than sequentially.

While Wheeler’s website recommends reading the books in the order which they were written, I’ve just read them in haphazard order by series, which has worked out fine.  The Kingfountain Series is still my absolute favorite so far.  This series felt like Wheeler’s best work, the stories and characters were so rich and well developed.   However, Owen Kiskaddon and Ankaratte Tryweony just wrapped me up so completely and were two of my all time favorite characters this year, so this may be coloring my love for the Kingfountain Series.

One of the great things about Wheeler’s series is that they tend to be 3 books of about 300-ish pages.  They also wrap up quite neatly while leaving room for expansion and tie-ins into his other series.  While I love Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, these series are hefty and take some serious dedication to get through.  Whereas with any of the Wheeler books, you can fly through them in about a week (or weekend if we’re being honest about our obsession here) which makes them really great summer pool/beach/camping reads.

Now is probably a really great time to sing the praises of Kindle Unlimited as every one of Wheeler’s books has been included in my Kindle Unlimited subscription.  Well worth the $11/month.

Alright friends, magic world obsessions aside, it is time to get back to real life.

Happy reading and until next time, cheers!

-R

beach read · Book Review · Favorite Authors · Favorite Books · Mythology · series books · Summer Read

The Kingfountain Series by Jeff Wheeler

 

Happy summer y’all!

If you’re like me, you’re getting your summer reading list ready for beach days, lake days, hammock days, park days!  There is nothing better than reading a good book in the summer sun.

With that being said, I have been obsessed (OBSESSED!) with the Kingfountain Series by Jeff Wheeler the last few weeks, reading book after book and losing hours of precious sleep in the process.   Probably should have saved this series for a long beach weekend but it was too good to stop reading and save for later.

Wheeler is one of the founders of the e-zine Deep Magic and a few chapters of The Poisoner’s Enemy were featured in the last edition I read.  It was soo good, I had to find the book immediately.  Unknowingly, I read The Poisoner’s Enemy first despite it being the last book Wheeler wrote in the series, however it did make the rest of the series make more sense, particularly since it is intended to be a prequel to the series.  Even though Wheeler’s website recommends reading this book last, I recommend reading it first as it sets the stage for understanding the complexities of the main character, Owen Kiskaddon.

The entire series is incredibly compelling and moves quickly with strong under tones from the legends of King Arthur and Joan of Arc, as well as inspiration from the War of the Roses.  Wheeler does a fantastic job tackling the issues of faith, religion, tradition and duty, with “The Fountain” playing a major role in each character’s moral and emotional development.

World building isn’t Wheeler’s strong suit.  Majestic waterfalls aside, I had a hard time envisioning the countries and locations of the Kingfountain series.  His character development, on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic.  It was nearly impossible to not fall in love with Ankarette, Owen, The Maid, Captain Staeli and Trynne.   The “villains” are as equally well developed as the heroes.  Severn, for example, is a tyrant you’d ful expect to hate, except Wheeler expertly fleshes him out to be a man with weaknesses and ambitions, decisions and regret, longing and loneliness that allow the reader to sympathize with Severn and understand Owen’s loyalty to a very complicated man.

Like The Mists of Avalon, The Kingfountain Series features women in a strong primary role with many of the female characters taking the lead for several of the books.  Unlike The Hunger Games where Katniss’ femininity was essentially nonexistent or The Outlander Series, where Claire’s femininity was a major hinderance, the women in The Kingfountain series are as strong, capable, and independent as they are loving, gentle and vulnerable.

Overall, The Kingfountain Series ranks as one of my top series favorites and I’d highly recommend for summer reading.  The story is fantastic, the character development is amazing, and the subtle threads of familiarity that weave the reader in with the Arthurian legends, Joan of Arc and British history were very well done.

Until next time, happy reading!

-R

 

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Cupa Tea · Self Help · thoughts · Wheat Beer

The craziness of Amazon book reviews…(And The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Big Magic)

Y’all know by now that I am a self-help book junkie.  After being waitlisted for so long I forgot they were even on my library’s waitlist, I finally got The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  In a fun surprise, Gilbert actually mentions Manson as one of her favorite bloggers and uses one of his posts in her book.  Super cool to get some reading synchronicity like that, particularly since Overdrive auto-checked out both books to me at the same time.

Anyway, both books brought a lot of really good thinking and talking points.  Manson’s book is honestly like having a super in depth life conversation with  your super drunk frat-boy friend, except you’re not drunk and he’s making a lot of really good points.  Yes, the language is over the top, even for me, but that’s part of the book’s magic.  As you read, you totally get the feeling that Manson is speaking to you and that’s EXACTLY how he talks.  As the book progresses and gets into deeper and finer points, Manson tones the language down a bit, but still manages to throw in some random-ass sayings that only a total drunk-ass would come up with.  The last chapter did feel a bit weird and out of place, it probably should have been edited out, but overall I loved this book and think the key to enjoying it is to approach it the same way you’d approach the bar patio picnic table that is currently home to your very drunk friend…with your favorite beer, some fries, and an open mind.

Big Magic,  while totally different from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, had the same one-on-one convo vibe.  Although instead of having a convo with your super drunk frat boy friend, this convo is with a beloved mentor/friend who is giving you all of the advice they’ve stored up for 50 years, almost like a retirement speech.  At the end of the book, Gilbert mentions that Big Magic was inspired by her Ted Talk, which really should have been part of the intro or first chapter, as Big Magic TOTALLY reads like a bunch of Ted Talks instead of connected chapters.  So while you read Manson’s book with a beer and fries, Big Magic requires some fruity tea in a delicate cup and scones.  Or mimosas and poppy seed muffins….(or maybe I’m just hungry…anyway…moving on…).  I really appreciated Gilbert’s take on inspiration (you just gotta move in some sort of direction (any direction!) and inspiration will follow), how you don’t always need a college degree before you can become great (just start creating!), and perfection (the enemy of progress!).  When read as multiple Ted Talks bound into a single book, Big Magic is great for quick tips and tricks on motivation, inspiration and short bursts of Gilbert’s own life.

Which brings me to the Amazon reviews for these two books.  While both are highly rated, I was amused by several of the reviews that gave 2 stars.  One reviewer gave Gilbert’s book 2 stars because the author wears perfume, which is bad for the environment or animals or something (who knows, the review was rambly and random!).  It was such a bizarre review, considering that was literally one line in the entire book and Gilbert was only mentioning how when she loses inspiration, she gets herself all fancied up, which in her case includes lipstick and perfume, as a way to attract inspiration.  It’s quite good advice, as most fitness gurus will tell you that putting on your workout clothes will essentially force you out the door on days when you don’t want to work out.  It just cracked me up that someone would focus on a single point and miss so many other fantastic points in a book.  Definitely a review written by a small picture person.

For Manson’s book, many of the 2 star reviews were “due to vulgar language”.  Seriously, if you pick up a book with a title like “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and then you get offended by the language inside the book, it is totally your own fault, as the title was a very LARGE clue to the personality of the author.

In an interesting twist, both books got a lot of reviews that said something like “this book is full of advice for younger people”.  I can see this being true for Manson’s book, my Grandma probably wouldn’t get as much out of it as my brother, but Gilbert’s book felt a lot less directed towards a specific market.  Big Magic seemed to be geared towards creatives of all ages looking for some friendly advice.  Many reviewers seemed upset that neither book offered any practical steps towards not giving a F*ck or finding their own magic, however if you read between the lines, the magic of these books comes from the fact that they don’t give you a cookie cutter recipe to follow.  Sort of like some modern day Mr. Miagi randomness that you have to figure out for yourself.

If you are looking for some practical steps, Big Magic would pair well with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck would pair well (ironically, I know) with Brene Brown’s Rising Strong or The Gifts of Imperfection.

That’s all for today, so until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R!

Self Help

My Super Secret Weapon…How to Win Friends & Influence People

how to win friendsLast week I had the task of presenting to a group of people who had previously been given incorrect information about my project.  Setting the record straight is never easy and it was a daunting task that left me nervous and sweaty right up until show time.  It took me a good month to create the 30 minute presentation, which luckily, went off without a hitch.   Many of the guests thanked me afterward and their smiles and friendly conversation were a sign that the presentation had hit its mark.

When one of the guests asked for advice in her own similar campaign, I immediately recommended she read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.  My entire presentation was guided loosely by the advice contained in this 80 year old book, starting with “Smile” and “Remember names”.

Knowing the topic was already heated and folks were bringing reactions to previously incorrect information with them, it was particularly important to follow “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”, “let the other person save face”, and “show respect for other person’s opinions”.  Starting an argument with these folks, tossing the previous informant under the bus, or belittling their concerns would win me no friends and would definitely not earn me their trust or respect.  Instead, I used a few more of Carnegie’s timeless gems by “talking in terms of the other person’s interest” and “making the other person feel important” while also “appealing to the nobler motives”.

With the entire presentation designed to defuse the situation by avoiding being argumentative, respecting and understanding people’s current concerns and reactions, and letting them know they were important to me, I was able to get the result I wanted: an audience who had overridden incorrect information with correct information.

This book not only gave me the tools to run a smooth presentation, it changed my entire life.  By nature, I am an observer and often waited for people and things to come to me.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of disappointment in observing opportunities headed my direction only to lose them because I didn’t know how to meet those opportunities head on or blew the networking tied to those opportunities.  After reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, I stopped waiting for things to happen and instead applied the skills from this book to go get them or at least meet them half way.  More than any other book, I recommend everyone read this one, particularly high school students and college grads starting the interview circuit.

Until next time, happy reading!

Books to Movies · children's books · Favorite Books · horchata · WWII

Ferdinand The Bull

ferdinand the bull book coverMy absolute favorite children’s book of all time is the 1936 classic, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.  My grandmother read it to me as a child and I’ve read it to Huck as least 1000 times in the last few years.  History has it that Leaf wrote the story in a single afternoon as a way to help his friend, Robert Lawson, showcase his artistic talent.  The book was a hit, and at $1 per copy the 1938 sales topped those of the ever popular Gone with the Wind.  The Story of Ferdinand has never been out of print despite the many political waves this little story has caused.  1930’s America received Ferdinand in two very different facets.  Some saw the strong but gentle Ferdinand as a fascist, a pacifist, a sit-down striker, and a communist, while others received the children’s tale as story of being true to oneself.  Both receptions say more about America at that time than the story itself.

World wide, Ferdinand entered the political arena with mixed reactions.  In Spain, Ferdinand was banned as a pacifist book until the death of Francisco Franco.  Nazi Germany declared Ferdinand a symbol of democratic propaganda and ordered all copies of the book burned.  Ironically, this sweet tale was the only American children’s book sold in Stalinist-era Poland.  In 1945, following the defeat of Germany and the end of WWII, 30,000 copies of Ferdinand were published and distributed to the German children to encourage peace.

Despite all of the historical political heat, at its heart, Ferdinand is a book children will love.  This adorable tale about a strong young bull named Ferdinand who would rather sit and smell the flowers than participate in the normal young bull activities is one that children (and their parents) will relate to.  There are so many deep themes gently layered into this story: self acceptance, parental support and acceptance of a child who clearly steers away from the normal expectations, and being true to yourself despite what everyone else wants from you.  If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend borrowing your favorite child and enjoying the sweet story of Ferdinand together, especially as this classic is coming to movie screens in December.

Title: The Story of Ferdinand

Rating: 5 stars

Location best to enjoy: Snuggled in a good reading nook with your favorite child

Best Paired with: A glass of horchata 🙂

 

audio books · children's books · Ice-Cream Sundae · Secret Hideout · series books

Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew the secret of the old clock book cover

My son, who we’ll call Huck in this blog, LOVES story time and was very disappointed that Mommy couldn’t read him his favorite books while driving him to school in the morning.  I attempted a few “from memory” recitations, which never quite hit the mark, before remembering my brother and I having several books on tape that we would sit and listen to over and over and over and over again.

On our next library visit, we found the “reading kits” which contain the book for the child to read and the cd for them to listen.  We picked out several and headed home.  The ride home (and all subsequent car rides for the next week) was awesome, until it became apparent we were going to listen to the same 5 min story 15 times for each car ride.

Cue the Nancy Drew audio book in the wrong location.

The bright yellow color caught Huck’s eyes and he had to have the yellow audio book.  We checked it out and were soon absorbed in a world of 1930’s American mystery.  Unlike the children’s books, this book had chapters and it took us about a week to complete.  My kid was obsessed, OBSESSED I tell you, with the mystery and we would have to sit in the car listening until we reached the end of each chapter.

At 3, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to follow such a long complex story, but he really surprised me by not only following the story, but coming up with his own ideas, conclusions and plans for catching the bad guy.  Over the next few months, we moved through the first five of the original Nancy Drew mysteries before moving on to the Hardy Boys.

Both series are very well written.  The characters are well developed and very like-able.  The plot is always intriguing and the mystery ending always attempts to be creative.  I enjoyed the timelessness of Nancy Drew.  Despite the lack of cell phones, which would have ended quite a few of her mysteries before they started, the novels never felt dated  and it was easy to relate to Nancy and her friends.  The length and complexity of the story was just right to satisfy the literary needs of both Huck and me.

Listening to these books took me straight back to third grade and I enjoyed just as much now as I did then, how Nancy, George, and Bess were presented as strong independent young women who held their own in the mystery world.  It was particularly refreshing to “read” about Nancy’s relationships with men.  The local police force, for example, respected her ideas, opinions and appreciated her assistance on cases.  Her father, a successful lawyer, encouraged Nancy to take chances and follow leads, while also backing her up when she needed it.

The Hardy Boys books are well written as well, but at times felt a bit dated, particularly when they mention money.  The Hardy Boys were also still active in their high school social life, leading to a few more characters than Nancy’s trusty sidekicks of George and Bess.  The stories were very very good but longer than the Nancy Drew mysteries and at times a little bit more complex.  While written about high schoolers, the books seem to be written for a little bit older audience that the Nancy Drew books.

Both my husband and I enjoyed listening to these mysteries with our son, and while I have a notorious affection for F-Bombs and complex tales, I enjoyed the fact that all of the language, scenarios and situations in these books were G rated.  These two series are just as good and as satisfying to read as an adult as they were as a child, and I’m rating these as 5 stars and recommending a traditional old ice cream sundae as the choice of drink while reading.

Title: The Nancy Drew Mysteries/ The Hardy Boys Mysteries

Rating: 5 stars

Location best to enjoy: Your secret hideout, a blanket fort, or the crook of a big old tree

Best Paired with: An old fashioned ice cream sundae with the works