Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bookish Thoughts: Magic of the Gargoyles by Rebecca Chastain

With one last twist of a filament of earth magic, I fused together the delicate seams of the quartz tube. ~ Opening of Magic of the Gargoyles

Magic of the Gargoyles by Rebecca Chastain
Mind Your Muse Books, 2014
Fantasy; 79 pgs

After having read and enjoyed Rebecca Chastain's A Fistful of Evil last year, I eagerly accepted her offer to read and review her novella, Magic of the Gargoyles. I love urban fantasy and this particular story sounded different and interesting.

Mika Stillwater is in a serious financial bind, trying to work her way into a better life. The side job she took on is on a tight deadline and the boss on her day job is strict about attendance.  When a baby gargoyle shows up in her apartment, however, she is forced to put everything on hold.  Gargoyles are a great source of magic and someone has kidnapped a nest of baby gargoyles in order to use them for dark purposes.  The gargoyle who sought Mika out sensed the earth elemental magic in her and believes only she can help.  Mika doubts she is powerful enough to find and save the baby gargoyles, but she will do her best. Hopefully it will be enough.

Despite this book being a novella (and therefore short), Rebecca Chastain does an amazing job of setting up the world in this novel, including the social hierarchy of those with magical power and skill, without sacrificing the story.  I really like Mika. She is not afraid to push the boundaries and test her limits. I also like that the author captured the struggle Mika felt between helping the gargoyles and sacrificing her own life goals. Mika's roommate, Kylie, is quite a character herself. She's a good person to have on your side.

I have not come across too many stories involving gargoyles in which they play such an integral part of the story. I really liked the way the author brought them to life, gave them personalities and told their story.

The story itself is intense from the beginning to end as Mika races against the clock to save the gargoyles. She proves herself resourceful, especially given she has little idea what she is doing at first and must learn as she goes. I thoroughly enjoyed Magic of the Gargoyles and hope this won't be the last book set in this world. I would love to see a full length novel featuring either Mika or even Kylie.

Rating:  * (Very Good)

To learn more about author Rebecca Chastain and her work, please visit the author's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads

Source: I received an e-copy of this book from the author for an honest review.

© 2015, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Where Is Your Bookmark? (04/21/2015)

Life was a bed of roses this past week, thorns and all. A flat tire, a sick cat, and other bad news on the home front. Mixed in with a trip to Disneyland, painting in the park, and the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Overall, I think it turned out well, despite the prickly bits.

I left the book festival with hardly any books. Just two: one for me and one for Mouse. It seems wrong somehow, doesn't it?  My husband was not feeling too well, and Mouse had her own ideas of what she wanted to do. It made for an interesting day. I got to meet several authors, including Linda O. Johnston who writes a cozy mystery series and Jan Moran, the author of Scent of Triumph.

Our day at Disneyland was much more a success, even when Mouse stomped her feet and begged to stay when it was time to go. When we first arrived, Mouse (in her Snow White dress--I never thought I would be that parent who let her child dress as a princess for a visit to the park. You try saying no to a dreamy-eyed 4 year old.) insisted on visiting the princesses first. And then it was all about the rides. We took in the Frozen show, which we all enjoyed. Mouse got to play in the snow for the first time (thanks to Olaf's Snow Fest) and was in Heaven, dancing and sliding across the ice and snow. I think that was her favorite part.

As for books, my husband is too easily distracted. How can he just put Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre aside and not read it for weeks?! I have been trying not to outpace him by too much, but it gets harder and harder to set the book aside to let him catch up.  He's not that slow of a reader.  He just has other interests that keep him occupied. Too occupied.  It is a crime to stay away from Jane Eyre this long! Anyway, I am at that part in Jane Eyre where all hell has broke loose, and I find myself both hating and loving Mr. Rochester all the while loving Jane (as always).

I finished Leif Enger's Peace Like a River last Friday and haven't yet settled on a new book. I keep going back and forth about what to read next.

What are you reading at the moment? Is it something you would recommend?

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea hosts 
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where  
participants share the first paragraph (or a few) of a 
book they are reading or thinking about reading soon.

The two books I am going back and forth between at the moment are Jan Ellison's A Small Indiscretion and Jan Moran's Scent of Triumph (it just dawned on me both authors' names are Jan). How about I let you help me decide which to read next?

About A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison (from the publisher):
At nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.
 A Small Indiscretion announces a major new voice in suspense fiction as it unfolds a story of denial, obsession, love, forgiveness—and one woman’s reckoning with her own fateful mistakes.

Here is the opening of the novel:
London, the year I turned twenty.
I wore a winter coat, the first I ever owned--a man's coat purchased at a secondhand store. I wore it every day, along with a silk scarf tied around my neck, imagining I looked artsy or sophisticated. Each scarf cost a pound, and I bought them from an Indian woman who kept a stall in the tube station at Victoria, where I caught my train to work. They were thin, crinkled things, not the sort of scarves that ought to be worn to work in an office or that offered any protection against the cold. But I could not resist them, their weightlessness and soft, faint colors. The money I spent on them, and the habit I adopted of wearing a different one each day, seems to me now a haphazard indulgence, an attempt to prove that I was the kind of girl capable of throwing herself headlong into an affair with her boss--a married man twice her age--and escaping without consequence.

What do you think of the opening of A Small Indiscretion?  Would you continue reading?

About Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran (from the publisher):
When French perfumer Danielle Bretancourt steps aboard a luxury ocean liner, leaving her son behind in Poland with his grandmother, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. The year is 1939, and the declaration of war on the European continent soon threatens her beloved family, scattered across many countries. Traveling through London and Paris into occupied Poland, Danielle searches desperately for the remains of her family, relying on the strength and support of Jonathan Newell-Grey, a young captain. Finally, she is forced to gather the fragments of her impoverished family and flee to America. There she vows to begin life anew, in 1940's Los Angeles. 
There, through determination and talent, she rises high from meager jobs in her quest for success as a perfumer and fashion designer to Hollywood elite. Set between privileged lifestyles and gritty realities, Scent of Triumph by commanding newcomer Jan Moran is one woman's story of courage, spirit, and resilience.

Here is the opening of the novel:
A rose, the symbol of love, the queen of the perfumer's pallete. How then, does the perfume of war intoxicate even the most reasonable of men?
-DB (From the perfume journal of Danielle Bretancourt)
Danielle Bretancourt von Hoffman braced herself against the mahogany-paneled stateroom wall, striving for balance as she flung open a brass porthole, seeking a moment of respite she knew would never be. A damp, kelp-scented wind--a harbinger of the storm ahead--whistled through the cabin, assaulting her nose with its raw intensity, but the sting of the salty spray did little to assuage the fear she had for her little boy.

What do you think of the opening of Scent of Triumph? Would you continue reading?  

Of the two, A Small Indiscretion and Scent of Triumph, which do you think I should read next?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies at Broke and Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Authors. I cannot do this! It's too hard.  Okay, so let's stick to authors of whom I have read more than one book by.  Heck, let's just keep the list to series authors I adore. It seems only fair. I hate that I am behind on almost all of these series.

1. The obvious.  J.K. Rowling.  I love the world of Harry Potter. I love Hogwarts. I love Hermione.  I hated to see the series end. I haven't yet read her mystery series, but I know I am going to love it too. 

2. Jim Butcher, of course.  Did you really think he wouldn't be on the list? I have so much love in my heart for his Dresden Files series. It's addicting.

3. Sue Grafton is one of my favorite mystery authors. I have enjoyed reading her Kinsey Millhone series since I first read A is for Alibi.

4. Craig Johnson is such a nice man in person. If you ever get a chance to meet him, please do. And his mystery books featuring Sheriff Longmire are pretty awesome too.

5. Patricia Briggs. I have only read part of one of her series (Mercy Thompson), but I so easily get lost in her books.

6. Same with Ilona Andrews (a wife and husband team) and their Kate Daniels series. I can't wait to read their other books.

7. Is it cheating to pick a trilogy? Patrick Ness for his Chaos Walking Trilogy?  Talk about an author who can make you feel all sorts of emotions.

8. Anne Bishop. Have you read the Others series?  If you like dark fantasy, you really should.  I also enjoyed her Back Jewels books.

9. Kelley Armstrong and her Women of the Other World series. Another series I am addicted to by an author I love.

10. Michael Connelly is one of my all-time favorite mystery authors. I haven't actually read most of his books.  Yet.  But the ones I have read, I have really enjoyed.

Have you read any of these authors?  Who are some of your all-time favorite authors?

Mouse and Snow White

© 2015, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

From the Archives: Mini Reviews of books by MaryJanice Davidson

I began keeping a reading journal several years before I began blogging. I find it interesting to sift through my thoughts of books that I read back then. My reviews were often brief and contained little substance, but I thought it'd be fun to document them here on my blog as well as share them with you. The first half of 2006 seemed to be my time for series reading. Here are some of my reviews from 2006:

Derik’s Bane (Wyndham Werewolf, #3) by MaryJanice Davidson 
Berkley, 2005
Fantasy; 292 pgs

Derik’s Bane is about a werewolf who must go after a powerful sorceress (who doesn't have a clue she is one) in order to save the world. The novel is paranormal chick-lit at its lightest, humor and romance aplenty. The story was cute and the characters were charming. I felt a little out of the loop with some of the history of the characters and wonder if the short stories that came before the novel would make up for that. I have yet to read those.

Dead and Loving It (Wyndham Werewolf, #5/Undead, #4.5) by MaryJanice Davidson
Berkeley, 2006
Fantasy; 305 pgs

Comprised of four cute and romantic stories with appearances by some of the popular characters from the author’s Undead series as well as her werewolf stories, Dead and Loving It was a pleasant and fluffy reading experience. A pure guilty pleasure. All of the stories were lighthearted and sexy, with a touch of humor added in. The romance formula was pretty much the same in each story: strong protective man wanting to bed and commit to sassy strong woman upon first sight. Still, there was enough variety to make each story entertaining.

Undead and Unpopular (Undead, #5) by MaryJanice Davidson 
Berkeley, 2006
Fantasy; 257 pgs

I have heard a few grumblings about the latest Undead book about Betsy, Queen of the Vampires, complaints that the book was not worth its price and that the story has suffered since Eric and Betsy got together, among other things. I actually found the story in Undead and Unpopular pleasant and fun. The book lacked some of the intensity that occasioned itself in previous books to a small extent, but I’ve never come to think of Betsy and friends as being a part of anything but a lighthearted chick-lit type of paranormal series. So, I don’t expect much when I open up one of the Undead books, except for an occasional laugh and an easy, relaxed reading experience. In Undead and Unpopular, Queen Betsy has her hands full (what else is new?) with the visiting delegation of European Vampires, the planning of her upcoming birthday and wedding, a biography of her life about to be published, a zombie in the attic, a sick friend, and a possible homicidal vampire and her boyfriend who want revenge against the man who made the woman into a vampire.

© 2015, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bookish Thoughts: Diamond Head by Cecily Wong

Inside the car, it smells like hibiscus. ~ Opening of Diamond Head by Cecily Wong

Diamond Head by Cecily Wong
Harper, 2015
Fiction; 320 pgs

I hesitate to say too much about this novel, about the characters and their experiences, as anything might be considered a spoiler. I will say that at the helm of the family is Frank Leong, a wealthy business man who has made his fortune in the shipping industry. When tensions become high in his home country of China, he moves his family to the island of Oahu. Life seems idyllic for the family as they settle in their new home. Only, tragedy strikes in the form of a murder. And with it, secrets that come out are quickly hidden again as the surviving family members struggle to rebuild their lives. Years later, with another death in the family, the youngest Leong, eighteen year old Theresa, finds out the truths long kept secret and how the mistakes of the past, those of her ancestors, touch her own life.

As I closed Cecily Wong's Diamond Head, I sat a moment, reflecting, tears running down my cheeks. I was not ready for it to end. I found this novel to be a quiet one mostly, an inside look at a family's successes and failures and how decisions made by one person come to impact others, sometimes across generations. It's a theme I find myself drawn to again and again in novels.

Cecily Wong does not write in a linear fashion; her story is told in flashbacks, not always in order, spanning the early 1900's up until 1964. It works well for this novel; Wong weaves the various narratives and time periods together expertly. Diamond Head has a strong sense of place. I could feel the magic of Hawaii when Lin Leong, Frank's wife, first sets foot on the island on Oahu. Cecily Wong brings both China and Hawaii alive with her words as she shares the story of the Leongs with her reader.

The story of the red string of fate binding together true love partners runs throughout the novel in one form or another. And in that way, Diamond Head is very much a love story, albeit a tragic one more often than not. It is also the story of family and of the choices we make--or don't make--as well as of redemption. The talk of fate weighs heavily on the pages; it weighs on the characters, like the knots that form in the red string when they stray from their fate, how it can hurt and punish. Each of the characters in the novel has their own story to tell, and, through the women, we get to know not only the stories but how they are interconnected. I liked that the reader gets the opportunity to know each of the women from their own perspectives as well as from each others.

At various points in the novel I wished for different fates for the characters, that they could have made different choices, seeing the direction their choices were likely to lead. And yet, had they made different choices, would their circumstances been better? Many times, the characters thought so--which in an of itself is sad. There were a lot of regrets, guilt and sacrifice. Within that though, there was also joy and hope.

I ached for Lin, the abuse she suffered as a child to the betrayal she suffered later in her life. My heart broke for Hong who lost the love of her life. I suffered with her during her long journey to her husband's brother's house with her shoes falling apart, hunger eating away at her, admiring her strength all the while. I wrung my hands and cried with Amy as she had to make the hardest decision of her life: a choice between love and family. And I felt Theresa's anguish for what she was going through, alone. I also felt for the men in the novel: Bohai and his brother Kaipo, and their father, whose mistakes reverberated long after his death.

The novel is told over the span of many decades, touching on the Boxer Rebellion in China, the tensions in the country at that time, through the beginning of World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor up through 1964. As a lover of history, I would not have minded a deeper look into the history of Hawaii itself during the stretch of time encompassing the story, but so much else was going on in the lives of the characters, I am not sure how it would have been fit in.

I found Diamond Head to be beautifully written, and the characters intricately drawn. I was swept into the story and into the lives of the characters, caring about them and dreaming along side them. The ending did seem a bit abrupt on one hand, at least where one of the characters was concerned, but for some of the characters it was quite satisfying. My tears were testament to that.

Rating:  * (Very Good)

To learn more about Cecily Wong and her book, please visit the author's website.

I hope you will check out what others had to say about Diamond Head on the TLC Book Tours route!

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Copy of book provided by publisher for an honest review.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Where Is Your Bookmark? (04/14/2015)

A friendly lizard visiting our house

How are you today? It is days like these I hate being cooped up inside an office. I would much rather be outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze. It was a pleasant weekend too. Mouse started another season of soccer. I recognized only one child from her previous class in her current one, but this class seems closer to her age. 

Last week I finished reading Diamond Head by Cecily Wong. I was too busy catching up on my magazine reading this weekend to start a new book right away.  Plus, I needed a little time after Wong's book before sinking my teeth into another. I am now reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, which admittedly had not even been on my radar before the book arrived on my doorstep last month. It is the second book I have received for my postal book club.  I am saving that for when I finish the book. I am really enjoying being a part of this group and look forward to seeing what comes in the mail next month. I have been good and have not yet read the previous two book bloggers' journal entries. 

What are you reading at the moment? Is it something you would recommend?

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea hosts 
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where  
participants share the first paragraph (or a few) of a 
book they are reading or thinking about reading soon.

The blurb from my current book, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger:
Once in a great while, we encounter a novel in our voluminous reading that begs to be read aloud. Leif Enger's debut, Peace Like a River, is one such work. His richly evocative novel, narrated by an asthmatic 11-year-old named Reuben Land, is the story of Reuben's unusual family and their journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother. Charged with the murder of two locals who terrorized their family, Davy has fled, understanding that the scales of justice will not weigh in his favor. But Reuben, his father, Jeremiah—a man of faith so deep he has been known to produce miracles—and Reuben's little sister, Swede, follow closely behind the fleeing Davy.

It begins:
From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with--given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century. Think about your own first gasp: a shocking wind roweling so easily down your throat, and you still slipping around in the doctor's hands. How you yowled! Not a thing on your mind but breakfast, and that was on the way.
When I was born to Helen and Jeremiah Land, in 1951, my lungs refused to kick in.
What do you think? Would you continue reading?  

I admit it took me a bit to get into Peace Like a River. I was not sold on it right away, but it has grown on me the more I read. I am quite attached to Swede and Reuben now.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies at Broke and Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is Top Ten Inspiring Quotes from Books (anything that inspires you, challenges you, makes you think, encourages you, etc.). This is a challenging topic for me given how I do not write down or remember quotes from books very often. I mean, I am really bad at jotting down or marking quotes. I will give it a try though!

1. From Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos:
"Less is less. Heartbreak is heartbreak. You think I'm sitting here gloating. Telling myself that my suffering beats yours? Hurt is hurt. You don't measure these things."

2. From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: 
"I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience." 

3. From Who By Fire by Diana Spechler:
"Everything is a choice," I say, but I'm not even sure I've said it aloud, until Chaim responds, "Even guilt is a choice."

4. From The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness:
“Here's what I think," I say and my voice is stronger and thoughts are coming, thoughts that trickle into my noise like whispers of truth. "I think maybe everybody falls," I say. "I think maybe we all do. And I don't think that's the asking." 
 I pull on her arms gently to make sure she's listening. "I think the asking is whether we get back up again.”  

5. From The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald:
Afterwards, in bed with a book, the spell of television feels remote compared to the journey into the page. To be in a book. To slip into the crease where two pages meet, to live in the place where your eyes alight upon the words to ignite a world of smoke and peril, colour and serene delight. That is a journey no one can end with the change of a channel. Enduring magic. 

6. From The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern:
“Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case.”

7. From Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
“You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?” Aunty Ifeka said. “Your life belongs to you and you alone.”

8. From Every Day by David Levithan:
“If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: We all want everything to be okay. We don't even wish so much for fantastic or marvelous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.” 

9. From The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy:
“I’ve never been fooled by the romantic, grand gestures. Love is all about the little things, the everyday considerations, kindness, and pardons.”

10. From The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
“You have to find a way to laugh a little bit each day despite everything, or your heart will simply run out of the joy that makes it go.”

Have you read any of these books? What quotes from books have inspired or moved you in some way?

© 2015, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.