Sweep

sweepby Jonathan Auxier
First sentence: “There were all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.”
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Content: There are some scary moments, and some talk of death. Plus the prose just feels “older”. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but it could easily go older as well.

Nan Sparrow has been a chimney sweep her whole life. She started out with a man she called Sweep, until one day he just didn’t come back, and so she took up with her current master, Crudd. He, if you can’t tell from his name, isn’t terribly nice.

Then one day, the worst thing that can happen to a sweep happens to Nan: she gets stuck. They try to get her out, but nothing works, and so they try the Final Option: burning her out. She blacks out, and when she wakes up… she’s rescued. And there’s a creature there. She ends up calling him Charlie — he was made from a small piece of char that the Sweep left her — and it turns out he’s a golem.

It has a tough beginning, but after Charlie comes into the story, it settles down into small adventures: Nan tries to keep from getting caught — she is supposed to be dead, after all — and tires to find out more about Charlie and his purpose as Charlie himself learns more about the world. It’s very atmospheric (in all the best ways), as Nan and Charlie end up relying on each other. There is a couple of small sub-plots, dealing with the horrid conditions of chimney sweeps in Victorian England (and they are horrid) and with Crudd’s vengeance for Nan “escaping” her indenture. But, mostly it’s a charming little tale of Nan and Charlie and their friendship.

Auxier, when he was here for school visits, said that he considers himself more of a storyteller than a writer, and that shows: although his writing is elegant, it’s the storytelling that comes through. He knows how to tell a story to keep a reader reading, and to make the characters come to life. It’s a strange, sweet story and I adored every moment of this one (even the ending, which made me cry).

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A Mad, Wicked Folly

by Sharon Biggs Waller
First sentence: “I never set out to pose nude.”
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Content: There’s one steamy kissing scene and some posing “undraped” (it’s not naked, it’s nude if it’s art). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

it’s 1908, and all Vicky Darling wants is to be an artist. She has found a community in Paris that she sneaks away to, away from her finishing school, and draws to her heart’s content. The thing is: Art is not done in Vicky’s social circles. At least not by women. Sure, they can paint… but only acceptable things: flowers, furniture, etc. Not Art. And definitely not Nudes.

So, when Vicky poses nude for her (all-male) art class, it causes a scandal. And she’s sent home to London where her parents decide the best thing is to marry her off as quickly as possible (she’s 16!) to curb her desires to Make Art. Because, of course, being a wife and mother will be so fulfilling that Vicky won’t have time for Art.

Except, it doesn’t really work. it’s also the time of the suffragette movement, and Vicky is inspired to help out. Initially, it’s only to draw them to work on her application to the Royal Art College, but eventually, she finds herself emboldened and empowered by these women who are fearlessly trying to exercise their right to vote.

It doesn’t help, either, that she’s met a supportive (and cute!) police officer, who’s willing to be her muse.

Vicky ends up faced with a choice: please her parents and society and give up her passion or follow her passion and give up her place in society?

Two guesses as to which one she picks.

I actually really enjoyed this one. It’s good to be reminded of the initial fight for equal (such as they are) rights for (white, mostly) women, and the struggles and trials they went through. And while Waller was sympathetic to Vicky and the suffragettes, she never really painted the upper class world that Vicky ran in as completely morally bankrupt. Constricting, yes. And lacking in understanding. But her parents did care for her (even if her friends and their parents did not). I especially liked the end (well, most of it), when Vicky left. Waller never hid the amount of privilege she had. She didn’t sugarcoat what it cost Vicky — monetarily, but also personally — to leave, and how much she had to learn when living on her own.

It was a really well done bit of historical fiction. And thoroughly enjoyable.

The Empty Grave

by Jonathan Stroud
First sentence: “Want to hear a ghost story?”
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Others in the Series: The Screaming StaircaseThe Whispering SkullThe Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow
Content: Scary stuff and violence, of course. They’re in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I always make sure the kids can handle scary stuff before selling these.

There’s not much new to say about this series that I haven’t already said before. I adore Lockwood, Lucy, George (and now Holly and Kipps, too!). I love that Stroud knows how to pace a story, giving us smaller ghosts and mysteries that all link together in a big huge climax. I love that while this one feels like a good ending, it’s also a good story in its own right. I will definitely miss this world and this series and I’m SO glad I started it all those years ago. If you’ve been waiting until all the books were out to start this series, now’s the time. Go do it. You won’t be sorry.

 

Audiobook: The Best of Adam Sharp

by Graeme Simsion
Read by David Barker
Content: There’s a couple of f-bombs, some other general swearing, and lots of sex, most of which is not tasteless.

I picked this one up because I liked The Rosie Project well enough, and I thought the premise of this one — a man who met the love of his life when he was in his 20s, though it didn’t work out, and 20 years later reconnects with her — sounded like something I’d like. And, for a good long while, it was. Adam, the main character, is a pianist by hobby (and a good one, though with a tortured relationship with his musician father) and there was a lot of music and musical references running through the book. I liked the falling in love, the wistfulness when remembering how it didn’t work out.

But, then, once he reconnects with his ex-lover, it just does sideways, and turns into a middle age wet dream. Or something that felt a lot like that. And when he ends up in a ménage à trois with his ex-lover and her current husband (about 2/3 of the way through), I bailed. Yep, I do have limits and there they are. I have to admit there’s a part of me that’s curious to know where the book went from there, but it’s not strong enough to pick it back up.

As for the narration, it was good, though I really couldn’t tell much of a difference between the Australian and English accents (is there much of a difference?) and his women’s voices were abysmal.

So, really: not worth the time at all.

A Conjuring of Light

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “Delilah Bard – always a thief, recently a magician, and one day, hopefully, a pirate — was running as fast as she could.”
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Others in the series: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows
Content: Swearing (including f-bombs) and violence mostly. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the other two, obviously.

When I finished the second book, I told one of my co-workers, who is also in love with this series, that I wasn’t as happy with the second book. But, I said, it’s a middle book in a trilogy. I bet (I hope!) the third will be great.

And it is.

One of the Antari (those are blood magicians, of which there are only three… now…), Holland, has unleashed a bit of sentient magic on the Londons. It came from Black London (and it’s Kell’s fault as well, thinking Holland was dead and pushing him into Black London), and it’s possessed Holland and taken over White London. And now it — Osaran is its name — has it’s sights on Red London. And maybe even Gray. And it’s up to Kell, Lilah, Rhy, and everyone, really, to stop it. If it CAN be stopped.

It’s a long book — 600 pages — but it flies by, and Schwab spares no one. It’s vicious and emotional and heartbreaking and exciting. It’s just a sweeping epic story, (mostly) well-told, and definitely one I’d recommend.

 

A Study in Scarlet

studyinscarletby Arthur Conan Doyle
First sentence: “In the year 1878 I took my decree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, violence (but most of it just talked about), and some, well, murder. It’s in the mystery section of the bookstore.
So, for  book group this month, we didn’t really want to read something long (it’s a busy month for all of us), and we were thinking classics, and I hit upon the idea of each of us reading a different Sherlock Holmes short story (or two). I decided to start at the beginning (mostly because I’ve read short story knock offs of this, and I wanted to see how Sherlock’s Study in Pink held up) and read “A Study in Scarlet”.

I have read many of these stories before, though it’s been a long (!) time, and I can’t be considered a fan of Doyle’s or Holmes’s. Which means, I don’t remember the stories. At all.

Things that struck me: Holmes is much less of a jerk than he is in the BBC series. (I think he was arrogant in the old Jeremy Brett series — it’s been forever since I’ve watched those — but he wasn’t insufferable.) He’s smarter than you, but he’s not insufferable about it. He calmly explains his methodology to Watson not because Watson is stupid but because Holmes wants him to understand how he does things. He does thing Lestrade and Gregson are stupid, but that’s because they’re police and they aren’t putting the time that Holmes is in learning how to be a good detective.

Doyle also explains EVERYTHING. It wasn’t so much a mystery for the reader to solve but rather explains everything in detail, including things Holmes could never know. (See: the first five chapters of part 2.) I wanted to be able to at least attempt to solve it myself, but I guess standards for mysteries were different in the 19th century. Which leads me to the ridiculous anti-Mormon chapters. (See: the first five chapters of part 2.) They were SO pointless (except, as Hubby tells me, sensational anti-Mormon literature was in vogue in London during that time), and even though it eventually wound its way back to the story, they really didn’t serve ANY purpose. (Not to mention being wildly inaccurate: at one point, Doyle had the characters fleeing Salt Lake City headed toward Nevada and going through deep gorges and tall canyons. Hon, if you’re headed out of Salt Lake and you’re going through canyons, you’re going toward Wyoming. Toward Nevada, you’ve got nothing but desert. And that’s just the geography. I won’t even get into the religion part.)

So, did I like it? Well, it was okay. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t knock my socks off. Maybe it was the wrong one to randomly pick (I think I like Study in Pink better….), but it wasn’t terrible, either. Maybe I’ll read another one just to see if they get any better.

My Lady Jane

myladyjaneby Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
First sentence: “You may think you know the story.”
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Content: There’s some mention of sex (it’s a “special hug”) but it’s completely off the page. Otherwise, it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

You think you know the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for 9 days. (And you probably do.) But Hand, Ashton, and Meadows have re-imagined it as a love story, a humor story, with a big of magic (there are people who can change into animals in this version of history). It’s charming.

The plot is somewhat irrelevant: there’s Edward, the king who dies and gives the throne to his cousin rather than his half-sisters. But, that’s really all there is of history. The authors go from there, letting characters live who should have died, giving characters romances and a future together. I’m trying not to give too much away, because it really is fun discovering how they twist history.

There is a bit of an intrusive narrator thing going on, but for the most part it works. It’s a silly story (actually the word I kept coming up with while I was reading was “adorable”), but it’s a silly that isn’t overbearing or dumb. Maybe it ran a wee bit long (I found myself losing interest about halfway through, but I didn’t put it down and it picked back up). But, it was a light, fluffy distraction for a little bit.