Review – The Name of the Wind

Kote is a man of secrets but you wouldn’t know it. For as much as anyone knows, he’s a quiet tavern owner who doesn’t get involved in the lives of his patrons. When Chronicler, a man who collects stories and is after the story of a man named Kvothe, stops at Kote’s Waystone Inn, he finds not only the story but the man. Kvothe — who now goes by the name of Kote and is enjoying life as a tavern owner — begins his story with his happy childhood being cruelly taken from him, his years living alone with his sadness, his survival on the streets, and years at university. As his life story unfolds, as do many questions — who exactly is Kvothe and what kind of power does he hold?

The book started a little slow for me and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it even though I had very high hopes for it. It came highly recommended and I didn’t want to give up before I found the goodness I was promised. In the end, my worries disappeared and I got caught up in the story Kvothe was telling wondering how his young self would handle the next problem. He’s immature and incredibly smart (he gets into university years before he should have even been considered) and because of this, he gets into one problem after the other. Somehow, this didn’t bother me at all because at this point I was too caught up in the story he was telling to care. I was also entranced with the magical world he was becoming a part of. The university itself is an interesting place and seeing Kvothe trying to fit in was a story in itself but that’s not all. He quickly becomes a part of the university but sees more of the underground than most and he refuses to let go of one subject — the Chandrain. He must find out how and why the Chandrain killed his parents. I wanted these answers too and was glad to see it didn’t fade into the background of the story.

What I really liked about this book, besides the world building which is top grade, is the way it’s told. It’s Kvothe’s own words. He tells you his life story and it has a very personal feel. Because of this I didn’t want to stop reading once I got into the story.

This is the first book in a series followed by A Wise Man’s Fear. I will be reading the next book in the series. It’s my first Rothfuss and I’m looking forward to more. His writing style is quiet, much like his character Kvothe, but he has a way of bringing you into a story and making you feel as if you can’t leave until it’s finished. It’s addictive writing. It’s addictive storytelling.

This review feels so inadequate. Here’s the thing, if you like fantasy, you should read this book. That’s all you need to know.

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

Daw Books, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-7564-0474-1

4.25 stars

Review – American Gods

Shadow is doing his time in prison but the end is in sight. A few days before his release, he finds out his wife has died in a car accident, and due to her death, he’s being released early. In shock, he heads home to the funeral only to find out his wife died in a precarious situation involving another man. He feels little remorse and decides it’s time for change. He takes a job offer from a man named Mr. Wednesday who needs someone to drive him around and protect him every once in a while. Shadow is a man trying to find himself or just forget everything around him depending on how you want to see it. His employment with Wednesday sets him up to meet a lineup of interesting people challenging Shadow’s beliefs in who and what he is.

The idea that gods were brought to the US, essentially immigrated here with the people that worshiped them, is an interesting one. Once those beliefs, prayers, adoration, whatever you want to call it, are replaced by other things in society — think celebrity — the gods begin to diminish. This imagines what would happen to those gods if everyone stopped believing in them. And, yes, it comes to war, but not the kind of war you’re probably thinking.

Shadow is an interesting character. He’s quiet, thoughtful (at times), and even though he’s done things in his life to land him jail, he’s not a bad person and really does his best to do what he thinks is right. He’s slow on the uptake when it comes to understanding the gods but gets it when necessary. He sort of lumbers through the story but that’s what I liked about him. There was no pressure with him. Everything took place around him and he just accepted and moved on — think blind faith if you will. He never professes to any belief system but he’s able to take them all on individually when he has to. I can see how for some people he’s not a captivating character but that’s what I liked about him. He was the grounding force for all the gods around him.

Now the gods, and they weren’t the only ones to make appearances here, several folk heroes get a bit of honor as well. Gaiman’s portrayal of the gods is interesting and I liked that they had human qualities even if those qualities, and vices, wouldn’t hurt them in the end. I wasn’t able to place every god, some were obscure, but each added something to the story and I didn’t feel any were dropped in for entertainment purposes. That’s something I always appreciate about an author; not everything has to be wrapped up nice and tidy but I want characters to have a purpose.

I read American Gods while taking a writing class and it was the perfect time to read it for me. The elements of storytelling were on full display here and I felt each time I turned a page I learned something new, in addition to being fully entertained. It’s a great piece of storytelling.

American Gods

By Neil Gaiman

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 9780062059888

4.5 stars

Review – The Secret Diary of a Princess: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

You’ve heard me say it before so don’t act surprised to hear it now — I have a thing about France and particularly Marie Antoinette.  I have no idea why, I just do. Now, since I’m in the confession mood, I read Melanie Clegg’s blog, Madame Guillotine, and have for a while. I’m a good lurker like that and she’s interesting and funny so I keep going back. Anyway, I saw the book there and then one day I saw it come up on my Nook and I bought it. I’m so happy I did too.

The Secret Diary of a Princess is told through the diary entries of the young Marie Antoinette starting as a child in the Viennese Court, her early education (and antics), family turmoil, and her eventual marriage. She leads a privileged life, and because she’s considered unimportant in terms of being marriageable material, she gets away with a lot. When it’s decided by her Empress mother that she will become the Dauphine of France, her life is forever changed. Gone are the jsilly games she would play, gone are the teachers who let her education lag, and in their place are new manners and etiquette to be learned and new people to impress.

This book delighted me in the way it was told. It’s a young girl writing and relaying her antics and daily problems such as not being able to enjoy some of the things her older sibling are allowed to do. When her mother’s plans are announced for her future, Marie Antoinette is no longer the least important of the daughters but is now the daughter the Empress is placing a huge burden on. She begins to feel the weight of what her mother wants of her but you also see a very young, and very scared, girl. I liked that. While Marie Antoinette doesn’t change dramatically — she still has the worries of and understanding of a young girl who doesn’t see the political ramifications of her actions — you see a glimpse of the woman she’s about to become.

There’s so much written about Marie Antoinette, her early life included, and while no one would say it was easy, it was certainly interesting. She is the youngest child of 15, lives a quiet and sheltered life at the Viennese court, and is then elevated to being the Queen of France. It’s an amazing story in some ways even more fascinating than anything fiction writers can imagine. I think that’s why I keep going back to books about her and this time frame. It all fascinates me so much.

Anyway, back to the book. I enjoyed it and when I came to the end, I was actually sad to see there was no more. It ends in a necessary place but I wanted it to go on. The dairy of a princess must stop when she stops being a child. My only quibble, and it’s a small one, is that I never thought of Marie Antoinette as being a writer so it took me a minute to take my early thoughts out it and get lost in the story. It didn’t take long. I was too entranced by the story to care at that point.

Finally, I did see that Clegg is writing a sequel to this one and I’m planning to read that one as well. I’m interested to see how she handles the next stage in this character’s life.

A Secret Diary of a Princess: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

By Melanie Clegg

BN ID: 2940011400735

Smashwords Self-published

4 stars

Review – Unfamiliar Fishes

In September 2011, I went to hear Sarah Vowell speak at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. I stood in the back and laughed as she read her snarky take on the history of Hawaii. I bought the book that night at one of my two favorite bookstores. Yes, I have two favorites.

In the 1800s, missionaries began arriving in Hawaii with plans to educate the good people of the islands on what it meant to be a good Christian. Upon arrival, they take on the task of reforming a society with some strange customs (royal incest was normal and encouraged) and impose on them some strange new customs of their own, forgetting the entire time they were no longer in New England but Hawaii.

History can be, and is, strange. I’m always fascinated when I come across something so out of the ordinary, especially when it concerns something I feel I should know more about.  Hawaii is a state I don’t know much about. I’ve never been there, not for lack of trying to convince my husband, but a place I do hope to one day visit and not for the beaches alone although that would be cool too. What I want to now see is the original Hawaii. What it was before America decided it needed to have it. And no, I’m in no way trying to start any kind of argument about statehood here. This book made me think about the complications that statehood certainly entailed, but also about what we all lose as days go by and we see things though a camera or screen without actually seeing what’s there.

This isn’t my first Vowell book (The Wordy Shipmates was) and it won’t be my last. I enjoy the witty way she looks at a slice of history and imposes her own past on it which might annoy some people but I think it’s absolutely necessary to do that because not only are we trying to understand others but ourselves through that process of learning. I’m looking forward to reading Assassination Vacation which she takes a look at places made famous by, yes, assignations.

Unfamiliar Fishes

By Sarah Vowell

Riverhead Books

ISBN: 9781594487873

4 stars

Review – The Lantern

I wanted to read this book the moment I heard about it. It was supposedly a take on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and I fully adored that book. Love, love, loved it. I waited though but read every review of it I could, spoilers and all. When I finally gave it, I read it in almost one sitting. I couldn’t put it down.

Eve, a translator working in Switzerland, falls for a man named Dom. Their whirlwind relationship lands them in Provence at a small abandoned house called St. Genévriers in the south of France. They’re in love with each other and with the little house they bought. Dom, having sold a successful business, has money and it makes for a quiet, easy life. They get lost in restoring the now run-down little hamlet to its former glory. What they didn’t count on was a devastating secret coming back to haunt them.

This book moves between the past and the present but never falters in atmosphere. The setting, strewn with lavender fields and dark secrets, is wonderfully evocative. Lawrenson drops you in those fields, describing each and every petal almost. I worried in the beginning that I would tire of her descriptions but I didn’t. Every setting comes with a tactile feeling — gritty, dust falling from a ceiling, a rough wall, the soft petals of a flower. I fell in love with it and I have a thing for French settings which I know made this an easy sell for me.

The relationship between Eve and Dom isn’t so open and easy though. Dom has a secret he refuses to share for all of Eve’s prodding. It casts a pall on their happy life which Dom seems fine with. Eve begins to harp on it and can’t let go. When everything is finally revealed, the secret, while devastating, doesn’t destroy them even if the life they thought they had has now disappeared.

An enchanting, gothic tale it is but it’s not Rebecca. I don’t think anything will live up to that book for me, and in a way, I think it’s unfair to position this book as a re-telling of that story. While a few elements will remind you of du Maurier, this isn’t the same story. When I started this book, I did remind myself on almost every page not to compare it to Rebecca and that didn’t happen past the first few chapters. The comparisons didn’t change my opinion of this book either. It was good. It stood on its own. Comparisons be damned.

The Lantern is a story of people looking to be loved and finding happiness and fulfillment in lives full of sadness. It moves at a slow pace but feels as though it has an ending and will come to some sort of resolution, happy or not. Everything is solved and the explanations are not always simple ones, but they have meaning and purpose for the characters which I can appreciate even if I felt some things were left too easily.

This was my first book of 2012 and I have to say it started my year off pretty well.

The Lantern

By Deborah Lawrenson

Harper

ISBN: 9780062049698

4 stars

Review – A Feast for Crows

This being the fourth book in a series, there may be unintentional spoilers. I’ve done my best to keep it neutral, but you’ve been warned.

I’ve loved everything about the Song of Fire and Ice series I’ve read so far. I repeat, everything. Until I got to book four, A Feast for Crows, and my love sort of cooled. I didn’t dislike anything about this book; in fact, you’ll notice I rated it a 4 out of 5 so obviously I didn’t have any negative feelings toward it either. What I found was that I missed many of the characters which weren’t in this book and I started to feel like I wanted to push Cersei out a moon door of her own.

The Lannisters are still ruling King’s Landing but with Tyrion’s escape and Tywin’s death, their once golden grasp is now hanging by threadbare ropes.  Cersei’s son Tommen is now king and married to Margarey Tyrell, and Cersei is having a hard time dealing with the fact that’s she being run out of her own palace. Jaime, now a one-handed man, is falling into a strange despair wondering how he will retain anyone’s respect and hating his once-loved sister for her cruel words. The Iron Islands are preparing a war run, the Riverlands are war-torn, devastated, and full of outlaws, and the Eyrie is now under the rule of a sick boy. Sansa Stark, now Alayne, is still in fear for her life, but Brienne — the maid of Barth — is hoping to fulfill a promise to Lady Catleyn Stark to find her daughters. Arya Stark is learning to be no one to her own detriment, and Samwell Tarley, a rather soft and scared man of the Night’s Watch, is the only man of the Black to still act like one, terrified as he is of the prospects.

As readers of this series know, each chapter is told from the perspective of a particular character. Many of the characters I adored perished in A Storm of Swords and I felt slightly disconnected to the ones that were left, namely Cersei. She’s spiraling at full speed fueled by alcohol, desperation, and denial. It’s interesting but she’s never been a character I related to so I find her drama filled days just that boring. Jaime on the other hand (no pun intended) is on his own road to an epiphany and seems to be realizing just what a crazy witch his sister is. It’s interesting to see him show feelings for and refer to Tommen as his son, even if it is only to himself and a man with no tongue and no writing abilities. Jon Snowe is now Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and I wanted very much to know what was going on there, especially with Stannis sequestered at the Wall with him, but we hear none of it. The most interesting story line, in my opinion, is Daenerys and we don’t see her at all.

Being the type of reader that is more attached to characters than plot, it normally doesn’t bother me when something rambles, as long as I feel it’s rambling toward some close. What A Feast for Crows rambles toward is A Dance with Dragons. This series is a sweeping epic so there will need to be filler like this — and by filler I mean stories other than the ones I want to hear will need to be told for the whole thing to come together.

While there is nothing wrong with this installment — Martin still frustrates, overwhelms, and makes you wonder — it was a slow book for me.  There is plotting and scheming to be had in abundance and no quiet moments. I know my favorites return in A Dance with Dragons which I’m looking forward to very much. I will be giving it time before I take on the fifth book though. It’s the last one for a long while.

A Feast for Crows

By George RR Martin

Random House

ISBN: 9780553900323

4 stars

Review – MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

Up front warning, this review will be a gusher. Yes, dear readers, I adored this book. Bertsche is funny, pragmatic (she does research on how to make a friend), encouraging, and in her own way, makes you feel like you too can go out and find a new best friend. Her ups and downs are more than just amusing, they’re painfully real and it’s refreshing to hear — and be reminded — that friendships are not easy. It’s not always friendship at first sight.

When Rachel Bertsche moved to Chicago to be with her long-distance boyfriend, she reveled in the fact they would be together in the same city. While it was wonderful to be with the man who would become her husband, she missed her friends. The ones she could call for a manicure, for brunch, and to complain about nothing simply because she felt like it and it had been that kind of day. Acquaintances didn’t cut it. She wanted a best friend that would listen, comfort, and laugh with her. She went on the hunt — 52 girl dates in a year.

I won’t tell you whether or not she found the one. You must read it for yourself. And I mean that, you must read this book.

The 52 girl dates are a stark reminder we all want something as simple as a friend and that it’s not always so simple to find a friend. It doesn’t happen overnight and requires work to connect with people. Facebook makes it seems as though we’re all friends but it’s not true. Friends are the ones that listen, encourage, and see you for who you are — they aren’t the like button.

This book also made me think about my friends. I don’t have a huge circle, I never have I prefer small, but they’re wonderful people. I have one who will be leaving for the west coast soon, I’ll miss her dearly, but she’s marrying a fantastic man and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her. I have others that live in far off states that remind me distance really is just a word some days. I’m incredibly thankful for the ones that find me funny and not crazy when I write an email to them laying out all the things that can happen to us while traveling in Ecuador. I’m thankful these people still boarded a plane with me and am so very thankful when I look back at all those photos and remember the time we had. There’s the one that gets me out of my house to swim and drink coffee and talk about nothing and everything. Above all, there’s my sister who will always, always be my favorite girl.

All these people make my life better in some way. I can see why Bertsche took on the task. We all need someone to laugh with, cry with, and travel with. Life is better with friends.

Go read this book. Not only will you be entertained but you’ll be left with a warm feeling about who we are as people. We’re all very much alike even when we don’t want to admit it. We all want and need friends.

If you want to know more about Bertsche, visit her blog MWF Seeking BFF. This is actually how I found out about the book many months ago. I’ve kept reading simply because she really is an entertaining writer. I’m looking forward to her next adventure.

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

By Rachel Bertsche

Random House

ISBN: 9780345524959

4.75 stars