“Come ride with me through the veins of history”

the invasion of the tearling

 

Spoilers for Queen of the Tearling ahead!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I dove right into this book since I enjoyed the first one so much and I already owned it. (Yep, still kicking myself for not picking up the third!) Invasion of the Tearling deals with the consequences of Kelsea’s breaking of the treaty with the country of Mortmesne and the Red Queen. As the vastly superior Mort troops begin to invade the Tear Kelsea struggles with how to save her people, with her own growing anger in frustration that is manifesting itself in some truly horrifying ways, and with her visions of a woman named Lily who lived 300 years in Kelsea’s past.

I definitely enjoyed this book as much as the first one. Watching Kelsea’s past (which is our future) was very informative. I did find that the middle part of the book dragged a little but I often have this issue with books where an inevitable fate is approaching through most of the plot. Kelsea’s ultimate confrontation with the Red Queen in the end was extremely satisfying as well when she finally got her groove back at the book’s conclusion. While I still can’t wait to read the resolution in the third installment, I was okay with taking a break from the Tearling for a bit to read something else.

 

“I’m just like my country. I’m young and scrappy and hungry.”

QUEEN OF THE TEARLING

I don’t usually finish a book and then immediately pick up the sequel. Now usually that’s because I don’t yet own the sequel but also I tend to want a change of pace genre-wise. But in the case of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, I had to know what happened next. Fortunately, I had the first two books in the series already on my kindle (and I’m currently kicking myself for not picking up the third when I had the chance). The Tearling series is a fast paced, genre bending work of fiction that I can’t wait to finish.

Princess Kelsea Raleigh has been raised in exile by her foster parents. On her nineteenth birthday, her personal guard arrives to bring her to the royal Keep so that she can ascend to the throne. Unfortunately the kingdom Kelsea is inheriting is in shambles, beholden to the seemingly immortal Red Queen in the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne. Kelsea has been told little of the state of her kingdom or her mother who sent her away as a baby before she arrives in the capital and she immediately upsets the order of things. In addition, most of the people in power would like to see her dead before she is even crowned.

Kelsea is no Mary Sue character. She is plain and a little frumpy. She is smart, but no genius. She is however well read and highly moral thanks to her upbringing. It is this above all that drives Kelsea through this first book in the series. Her actions make her some powerful enemies and could spell disaster for everyone in her kingdom but she must act against the evil that has a grip on her land. Ultimately, Kelsea must use her education and her moral code to prove to those around her that she is a better ruler than those that have been in power.

This book is a mashup of both fantasy and, as you discover when you read dystopian future fiction. Although not everything is explained in the first book, The Tearling is located on Earth, but not anywhere we have seen before. Part of the reason to keep reading is not just to find out what will happen but what *has* happened. I can’t recommend this book enough.

A well written disappointment

in cold blood

 

I have been a huge true crime fan since I first read Helter Skelter at 16 years old. I listen to the My Favorite Murder Podcast religiously. But somehow in over 20 years, I haven’t managed to read this book, which is a classic in the True Crime genre. I finally picked it up in a birthday book buying frenzy in May and read it shortly after. Objectively, I recognize Capote’s contribution to literature and that it is the first of what’s often referred to as the “non-fiction novel.” However I did not like this book nearly as much as I thought I would.

The story itself is compelling enough. On the night of November 15th 1959, Herbert Clutter, a prosperous Kansas farmer was murdered in his home along with three members of his family: His wife Bonnie and his teenage children Nancy and Kenyon. The family was extremely well liked and had almost no enemies. The town was shaken and on edge after the killings. The perpetrators, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith had never met the Clutters before the night they died. A former cellmate of Hickock’s had spoken of Mr. Clutters prosperity and mentioned a safe containing as much as $10,000 in his office. After six weeks, the murders were apprehended, tried and eventually executed. It’s the writing that I sometimes found to be troublesome. Capote quotes uses huge blocks of text from the killers to do some of the writing in the last half of the book. While their past is certainly compelling, Capote almost seems too sympathetic at times to these men who committed such heartless acts. I’m glad I read the book, but I can’t see re-reading it.

“If you had the time to lose, an open mind and time to choose.”

outlander

 

I avoided this book for years because I was told it was a romance novel and I have a prejudice against romance novels. Perhaps it was the seemingly endless supply of Harlequin books my mother seemed to devour. The closest I ever got was a minor obsession with V.C. Andrews which take a decidedly darker turn than the average “bodice ripper.” While I’m still not a fan of a straightforward romance novel, I have included books that fall under the “romance” umbrella into my TBR pile. This was the first and mostly like the most hefty in foray into the genre. The fact that there’s time travel, adventure and historical fiction definitely helped ease the transition.

For the five of y’all that haven’t read this book. It centers on Claire Randall, a combat nurse who is enjoying a late honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank after the end of World War II. While wandering through the stone circle at Craigh na Dun, Claire places her hand on one of the stones and is transported back about 200 years. Her accent and strange attire immediately cast her under suspicion. Due to some complicated circumstances, Claire is forced to marry Jamie Fraser a Scottish Laird/outlaw who is, of course, also terribly handsome. Naturally the two begin to fall in love and of course there are complications. The main complication being a sadistic English Captain named Jack Randall, who is a distant relative of Claire’s husband Frank and bears an uncanny resemblance to him (this sounds ridiculous when I describe it but…it works). Jamie and Claire run afoul of him more than once with some pretty awful consequences for both of them.

This book is…looooong. I’m in favor of giant books but since I bought this one in Kindle bundle of the first 7 books in the series I had no way to gauge just how far I was in the actual book. So just when I thought things were wrapping up, a whole new section started. So while enjoyed the heck out of Claire and Jamie’s adventures (though the last half of the book may need a trigger warning), I was ready to be FINISHED by the time I got to the last page. I may save the sequel, Dragonfly in Amber for when I have a long stretch of reading time to invest.

Put on some lipstick and pull yourself together

the angry therapist

 

I’m of the opinion that in a perfect world, therapy would be treated like any other kind of health maintenance. Some of us only need to go once or twice a year to make sure everything is still functioning like it should, and others might need a little more frequent fine tuning. But until that magical time occurs, we Americans are pretty much on our own as far as mental health. While John Kim’s book is by no means a replacement for a good counselor, it’s a great little guidebook for the basics of living your life honestly and truthfully.

John Kim’s approach is honest, direct and to that point as the title suggests. This is a bare bones guide to living your truth. He shares his own failures with you, which makes his advice much easier to swallow for the average person. Despite the brevity of the book, I think an editor could have been used. It could do with a few more paragraph breaks and spell checks, but such are the perils of small publishers. Otherwise, The Angry Therapist is an eminently readable book that I immediately passed on to a friend.

“And how many times have I prayed, that I would get lost along the way.”

the gunslinger

 

Coincidentally, I started reading this book the day the movie trailer dropped. I first read The Gunslinger as a twelve year old who was blazing my way through Stephen King’s works. Like many preteens, I was overly fascinated with sex and violence but had no real appreciation of the consequences of either. I did not care for this book at the time. It was too abstract and had the feel of the old westerns that my dad and grandpa favored, which I studiously avoided as “old guy stuff.” As an adult, I recognize that The Gunslinger is a cut above Mr. King’s already excellent body of work.

The book’s universe seems to take place in a parallel or alternate timeline. Characters make reference to historical and pop cultural items that mirror our own but this world is an unforgiving wasteland in which, as the protagonist says “the world has moved on.” Roland of Gilead, the titular gunslinger trails a mysterious man in black across a barren landscape. Along the way he encounters a town that has been tainted by the man in black and later picks up a companion in the form a of a young boy named Jake Chambers. Along the way, we learn a little about both Jake and Roland as they travel together toward a fate of which they are both increasingly fearful.

This book was hard to put down. Like many of Stephen King’s best works, you know something horrible is going to happen but you can’t stop reading. I have already added the next two books in the series to my TBR pile. and made The Gunslinger part of my permanent book shelf rather than passing it on like I typically do with books I’ve finished. I’m glad I finally started filling in this gap in my Stephen King library.

“Believing the strangest things. Loving the Alien.

dawn

 

Octavia Butler is a name that pops up frequently in searches for sci fi writers who aren’t white and male. Naturally when the first book in the Xenogenesis Trilogy popped up on Kindle for sale, I grabbed it up. While Dawn contains many of the same ingredients as a lot of sci fi classics (alien races, the destruction of humanity) the finished product is very different.

Lilith Iyapo has lost everything. Shortly after her husband and son are killed in a car accident, humanity destroys itself in a great nuclear war. She awakes on an alien spacecraft hundreds of years later. She and the other remnants of humanity have been rescued by an alien race called the Oankali. They have restored earth into liveable habitat and will be sending the humans back to start society from scratch. The catch, because of course there is one, is that the Oankali have survived by genetically bonding themselves with other more primitive species. So Lilith’s generation will be the last true humans to exist.

Butler maximizes the “otherness” of the Oankali. These are not the sexy green ladies favored by Captain James T. Kirk. They are grotesque to the human eye; a mass of tentacles and sensory fibers that seem to change with their mood. Lilith is the first human who does not immediately attempt to kill them at first contact. It is because of this that she is made a leader of one of the human groups that will return to to Earth. She will act as a liaison between the disoriented humans and their alien “rescuers.”

The discomfort level is high throughout this book as Lilith bonds physically and emotionally with her “rescuers.” She is clearly conflicted about her new role but she acts decisively with little waffling. The book posits the question, “Does humanity truly survive if its descendants are not completely human?”

“Back at the hotel, Lord we got such a mess.”

heads in beds

 

I love traveling though my sad little bank account rarely allows me to do it. Travel memoirs are much more within my budget until I’m more financially solvent. So when I came across Jacob Tomsky’s memoir about what goes on behind the scenes at luxury hotels, I immediately added it to my TBR pile. While it’s not technically a travel memoir, it’s definitely travel adjacent and it was a nice light read that fueled my luxury travel fantasies.

Tomsky is a veteran of the hotel industry who started off as an eager valet shortly after graduating college. Since that time he has worked in all sections of the hotel, from valet, to front desk to housekeeping. He speaks frankly about the challenges of working in luxury customer services and the conflicts and camaraderie between himself and his fellow employees. He’s served multiple celebrities but don’t ask him to name drop.

His tips for not being “That Guest” and for getting employees to give you extras aren’t exactly groundbreaking for anyone who’s worked in the service industry. They are, in short: treat service personal like actual humans and and tip early and often. However the book is a fun engaging read especially if you enjoy “behind the scenes”memoirs.

 

“Better you leave here with your head still full of kitty cats and puppy dogs”

la confidential

 

My head was in a very bad place after reading this book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great book, but plot is so serpentine and gritty it makes the 1997 film version look like a Pixar short (opening sequence of Up notwithstanding). James Ellroy’s vision of 1950s Los Angeles is dark, mean and merciless. There are no “good guys.” There are only hard, jaded men whose demons push them to pursue some form of justice and none of them come away unscathed. That’s not hyperbole.

The three main characters, Edmund Exley, Wendell “Bud” White and Jack “Trashcan Jack” Vincennes have their fates intertwined by the “Bloody Christmas” scandal, a real-life even involving the severe beating of several civilians by LAPD officers in 1951. The subsequent departmental shake up sets all three men on a path involving police corruption, murder, drugs and vice connecting to the highest levels of society. It’s hard to say much more about the plot, not because of spoilers but because it so dense.

This book was really damned good but it’s not for the faint of heart. Everyone in it, even the protagonists, are ugly. Every awful thing that can be done to a person seems to happen at some point in this book. But it’s also very smartly written and keeps you guessing.

“Space around me where my soul can breathe”

introvert advantage

I don’t think I’ve ever read a “self help” book before. It’s not that I don’t think I could do with some improvement. I often find their advice to be overly simplistic or that they take a “one size fits all” approach to many of life’s problems. Ms. Olsen’s book has some of these issues but is generally easy to read. She divides her books into small, easy to digest sections making it easy to read before bed.

I would say one of the biggest issues with this book is that a lot of the information has become old news in the 15 or so years since it was first published. We all know that introverts get their energy from quiet time spent alone and that extroverts are just the opposite and that we prefer substantive conversations to small talk. On any given day one can find approximately 50 memes about being an introvert on their Facebook feed. I also found that she tended to view people in very black and white terms with regard to introverts and extroverts. That being said, there were some helpful tips on getting along in a society that seems to be built for the extrovert. She gives advice for relationships, the workplace, meeting people, social obligations and many other situations (I skipped the chapters on parenting).

Overall, this book is helpful if not particularly groundbreaking in 2017. I am already utilizing some of her advice at my job and it seems to be working.